Two peas in a pie

The owners of Die Pie and Pêche Café adapt to survive a pandemic

Last spring, Die Pie, Edmonton’s first vegan pizzeria, was already facing challenges. Its once-prime location on Jasper Avenue faced an onslaught of construction that severely limited access for customers. Co-owners Neil Royale, Thomas Goodall, and Karuna Goodall were also juggling two businesses after opening Pêche Café in the Quarters the previous fall. Then, came the pandemic.

“As soon as we couldn’t operate, we started losing money because no one stopped charging us. Rent was still due every month and all the utility companies and our insurance companies were charging us,” explains Royale, who is the head chef of Die Pie.

The trio consolidated all of their businesses—they also operate a ghost kitchen called Seitan’s Disciples—into the Pêche Café space under the Die Pie name. The 97th Street and 102 Avenue location is twice the size of the Jasper Avenue space, making it easier to follow physical distancing requirements for dining in. They launched a new menu that was a fusion of the three restaurants’ offerings.

At first, customers were eager to visit. “When we first reopened in June, we were quite busy. But as the weeks went on, it slowed down,” says Royale. “I think people are still pretty weary of eating in dining rooms.”

There weren’t any vegan pizza joints in Edmonton when Royale opened the original Die Pie in August 2017 with his sister, Karuna Goodall, and her husband, Thomas Goodall. Karuna now works alongside her older brother as the sous chef at Die Pie. Three years later, the restaurant remains an anomaly in Edmonton’s meat-heavy dining scene.

But for Royale, the concept was a no- brainer. A Red Seal chef who graduated from NAIT’s culinary arts program before working at several illustrious hotels in Vancouver, Royale was raised as a vegetarian.

“I always wanted to open a vegetarian restaurant. I had an allergy to dairy as well, so I started playing with vegan cheese and really liked cooking vegan food,” says Royale. Pizza was always one of his favourite foods, and he mastered Neapolitan-style pizza while working in Jean George’s Culinary concept restaurant, Market.

The new restaurant, nicknamed Die Pie 2.0, has folded in aspects from Pêche Café, such as desserts and lattes featuring their barista oat milk. “It’s a special recipe we have. It steams really perfectly for lattes,” boasts Royale. They also make all of their vegan cheeses in-house. Rosso Pizzeria in Edmonton serves Die Pie’s vegan mozzarella,
and Die Pie sells four types of vegan cheese under their brand Kaju, meaning “cashew” in French and Hindi. The most popular menu items tend to be playful takes on fast food items and bar food–mac and cheese, wings, and a Big Mack pizza similar to the beloved burger at a certain popular fast food spot.

There’s one definite upside to having only one restaurant. Before, Royale didn’t get to work with his sister very often. “We hadn’t worked together for probably a year so it’s great to be back working together,” says Royale. “That was one thing that was really sad when we were in self-isolation – we missed making pizza together.”

Through depressions and pandemics, Edmonton Downtown Farmer’s Market has staying power

The Edmonton Downtown Farmer’s Market (EDFM) is older than the city it’s named after. Originally founded in 1903 as the Rice Street Market, Edmonton’s original farmer’s market has been a fixture downtown through world wars, depressions, and most recently, COVID-19.

And for Dieter Kuhlmann, chair of the market’s board of directors, knowing where your food comes from is more important than ever.

“People today are used to hearing about a lot of the contamination of food coming in from far away that they have no control over. If they come to [EDFM], they get to know the person that they’re dealing with, they get to find out their pedigree, what they do and how they handle things,” says Kuhlmann.

The EDFM, which recently relocated to the Great West Garment (GWG) building (10305 97 St.), is home to more than 80 vendors selling produce, meat, alcohol, and merchandise. Sherry Horvath, who sells meat and eggs at her Sunshine Organic Farms booth, echoes Kuhlmann’s sentiments about the important role the market plays in the community.

“You don’t get to meet the people who are growing your food. If you ask a [grocery store] employee how long it takes a baby chick to turn into a hen, they would look at you with a blank stare,” she says. Horvath firmly supports a farm to table relationship, especially during a time when transmission potential is on everyone’s mind.

This isn’t the first tumultuous time for the market, as it’s endured a previous pandemic, world wars, and several moves over the decades. When it first opened in 1903, vendors would erect stalls every Saturday on the lot where the Edmonton Public Library’s Stanley A. Milner branch now stands. In 2004, they moved to their 104 Street location, and in 2011 the market became a year-round fixture, moving inside City Hall during winter months, which continued until the move in 2019.

“It was quite an upheaval. We had a very successful, very busy market on 104 Street,” says Kuhlmann, who has been with the market since the 1960s as a vendor, as one of the co-founders of Kuhlmann’s Market Gardens.

The EDFM’s transition to its new home in the GWG building was rocky—issues with permits led to the market’s grand opening being delayed for several weeks. But the move wasn’t without benefits. The EDFM’s new home is within The Quarters, and as that area of Edmonton continues to be redeveloped, the advantage of the market’s new home will be evident.

“We are probably just a little ahead of the crunch,” says Kuhlmann. “Eventually, this is going to be a very beautiful area, with parks and everything. Next to our market, we have 1,000 parking spots that are free of charge. Parking downtown is like antiques: you can’t find it.”

He also stressed the importance of having a grocer within walking distance; the area around the farmer’s market doesn’t have many supermarkets.

The EDFM remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic but is working with Alberta Health Services under strict sanitation regulations. The EDFM is open Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For Horvath, continuing to serve the community even during the pandemic goes beyond food.

“Farmer’s markets are really social gathering places,” says Horvath, who says she isn’t worried about the temporary elimination of buskers and social distancing protocols. “People are socially distanced, and there aren’t any places to sit and stay. That’s one thing that is different, but people understand and respect that. People are happy— they’re enjoying their time here.”