Kelowna’s Leon Avenue hasn’t recently been an area where entrepreneurs want to invest with concerns about its homeless population being regularly raised.
The success being had at newly opened Renegade Kitchen and Craft Bar, however, may change everything.
“We’ve been really busy, it’s been great,” said owner and chef Shaun Saunders, on a Thursday lunch hour when the restaurant was packed.
Customers are undeterred by the restaurant’s address and the often maligned population of Leon Avenue haven’t been a problem either.
“We are taking a kind approach, we talk to them, we ask them nicely to move in the morning if they’re blocking our way in and we look them in the eye,” Saunders said. “It’s amazing how far that goes.”
Saunders and his partner Meghan Carr weren’t trying to make a social statement when they opened on Leon, they just wanted to increase their food-making capacity. Initially, Saunders said they were looking for kitchen space so they could stock a second food truck — the one they opened in 2018 was popular— but the Leon Avenue space was too good of a deal to pass up and a brick and mortar restaurant was in their sights.
Since it opened last month, everything from poutine, to burgers and mac and cheese, have been flying from the kitchen. The twist on those old staples is that the offerings are all vegan.
Carr and Saunders are vegans themselves and wanted to offer something different to the community.
Longtime Vancouver residents who worked in the food services industry, Saunders first worked at Mission Hill when he made his way to the Okanagan. He’d come here by way of the Fairmont Hotel and always thought of himself as a fine-dining chef.
As it turns out, his stamp on local cuisine may just be his veggie burger patty, which is a hit with carnivores and veggie-based eaters as well.
“The thing we’re most known for is the renegade burger, it’s our flagship item,” he said. “As you mature, you realize different things, and I realized I wanted to create a space I enjoy going to. We wanted food with a fine dining backbone and strip away all the pretension from it.”
The cozy atmosphere and warm reception from everyone who works at Renegade goes some distance to meeting that aim.
Carr said they hire 90 per cent on personality and 10 per cent on experience — teaching what isn’t already understood about the serving industry — and it’s been a winning formula.
And, as is the case with fine dining establishments, Saunders goes out into the restaurant space when he can and talks to customers about their experience.
“We want to offer warm personalized hospitality and really put a lot of attention to detail in the back,” he said.
The food, at face value, may seem like Canadian basics. They’re anything but, though.
Their cheese curds are technical to make, but Saunders said he doesn’t want people to think about it.
“I want people to see the food as effortless,” he said. “We don’t want any level of pretentiousness, we want it to be approachable.”
The feedback he’s received paints a positive picture, as well.
“The fact that it resonates this much is the most touching,” he said.
Carr has been impressed and surprised by the positivity as well.
“We had a moment the other night where we realized people are loving what we’re doing,” she said. “We fantasized about it and now it’s happening.”
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