Pros and cons of running a restaurant near Edmonton's arena

How 3 restaurateurs are managing the mixed blessings of Edmonton's downtown boom

Alexei Bolderiff, head chef at Baiju, Edmonton

The start of the Oilers' second season in Rogers Place is thrilling not only Edmonton hockey fans, but many downtown bars and restaurants as well.

Several owners and head chefs say they’ve seen a significant bump in business thanks to the year-old arena on 104 Avenue, and to the more than 18,000 thirsty, hungry hockey fans and concert-goers who descend on the area for each event.

“There’s plenty of pie if everyone wants a piece. There are thousands and thousands of people pouring out of the arena, and we can only take 60 of them,” says Alexei Boldireff (at left, Retail Meatcutting ’11, Culinary Arts ’10, Finance ’05, Accounting ’04), head chef of Baiju, a modern Asian bistro just a few minutes’ walk from the arena.

“It’s good for pretty much everyone,” he adds.

For the most part, that has proved true. We asked Boldireff and two other chefs about the pros and cons of operating next door to one of Canada’s busiest arenas. Here’s what he, Characters owner and head chef Shonn Oborowsky (Cooking ’90), and Craft Beer Market executive chef Peter Skwaruk (Culinary Arts ’02) said about the arena effect.



Famous people

Baiju, which opened in February, sees a steady stream of hockey and music fans before and after arena events, says Boldireff. It’s also seen stars.

The restaurant recently hosted the after-party for the band Coldplay and their entourage, who played Rogers Place at the end of September.

Busy game day or not

“Any restaurant downtown within walking distance, especially if they have TVs, they’re seeing a huge influx, not only for home games but the away games, too,” says Skwaruk.

Varied clientele

Shonn Oborowsky, owner and head chef at Characters fine dining

The variety of events at the arena have helped attract a broad demographic to the area.

Oborowsky’s fine-dining clientele – generally older and potentially more affluent – have come for dinner before shows like Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks.

Craft also draws a crowd on concert nights. It's often younger, as it was for the Kanye West concert this summer, says Skwaruk.

Comparable or cheaper

Up against menu items at the arena, food and drink prices at surrounding restaurants can seem like a bargain, says Oborowsky.

“People are looking for somewhere to eat nearby,” he says. “If you look at the prices of the arena, we’re almost cheaper.”

The hive effect

Peter Skwaruk, executive chef at Craft, Edmonton

The arena hasn’t been a windfall for everyone, says Skwaruk, executive chef at Craft Beer Market, a high-end pub catering to microbrew fans. Staff at some smaller restaurants, particularly those that don’t have TVs, have told him hockey nights can be slow.

“People want to be where there’s a buzz and there’s orange. It creates a hive effect. When they see jerseys going in, they want to go and be with other jerseys.”


While Oborowsky can offer free parking to his fine-dining customers in the Characters lot, others say the cost of parking, and a perception of lack of parking, deters non-arena goers from coming downtown to eat and drink. Corporate groups that would come to Characters for business events now make a point of booking on non-event nights at the arena.

Boldireff has experienced much of the same. “It got to the point where we were sending out messages last year telling people when there wasn’t an event at Rogers Place,” he says, because the city has banned parking on some streets in the area on event nights. During last spring’s playoff run, some parking lots were charging as much as $40 to $50 to park during games, eating into peoples’ food budgets for the night, he adds.


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