There is a lot of change and transformation in Winnipeg. Often we focus on big splashy things like the SHED in downtown or what’s going on in West Broadway. Yet, generally with less fanfare, a lot of change is happening along Main Street. Much of this changed is designed to work with the existing community, not to simply transform the neighbour by pushing current residents away.
In the last few days I received a couple of emails about a new restaurant on Main Street.This new place is called the Lunch Bell Bistro. The Lunch Bell Bistro is located in the Bell Hotel, which now serves as transitional housing for those trying to get off the street. The bistro itself is working in co-operation with Changes, an organization committed to helping people with cognitive and developmental challenges find their own places within the community.
Under the direction of Chef Chris Tascona, the work experience students will work in both front and back end areas of the restaurant over the period of time they are at Lunch Bell. Along with that, they will spend time in other food establishments giving them an opportunity to see how the skill they are learning in one place are transferable to another. One particular area of emphasis is teaching the students the essentials and importance of food safety and hygiene. If you visit the website link at the top of the page, you can acquaint yourself a little more with the details of the process.
Of course, the question is how does this work in a restaurant serving the public. If my experience today was any indication it is going to work very well. First of all, the restaurant is quite nicely laid out. When I walked in one of the first things I noticed was white tiled walls that made me think of a high roofed version of Little Sister Coffee Maker. That’s one of my favourite physical spaces. Also, the benches along the wall added to that feeling.Shortly after entering I was greeted by my server. My server was one of the students, and what struck me immediately was that his greeting was both friendly and courteous. Courtesy is not always as common as friendliness in restaurants and it’s greatly refreshing. Of course, in one sense it’s also sad to see, because it’s a reminder that many of the students coming through the Lunch Bell program have the additional challenges of having prejudices about the overcome.
Lunch Bell Meal
The menu is fairly straight forward, it consists of soups, salads, sandwiches, and desserts, with one or two specials (today was lasagne). I opted for the soup and salad combo which is a very reasonable $8.00. I also had the half blue and green salad, and a slice of blueberry pie for dessert(yes, lunch was my main meal).
The soup of the day was a Lentil soup that was nice and savoury and featured plenty of vegetables that were still a little firm. The soup was ready before the sandwich and my server came to ask if I would prefer it right away. I did, and this cut down the sense of waiting for my food. I later got a chance to look at the Chicken Noodle Soup which is a regular menu item, and I would highly recommend it as well.As I was finishing my soup, the salad and half-sandwich arrived. The first thing that stood out on this was the plating. Then I tried the food and it was even better. The pulled pork had a light BBQ tang, and the meat was very tender. Then bun, fresh from City Bread, was melt in the mouth. The salad also fresh, with a nice hint of sugar to the walnuts as well as being well, but not overly dressed. In the middle was a nice, zingy little dish of coles slaw.
I decided to order a piece of the blueberry pie for dessert. While I was waiting to enjoy that I had the opportunity to chat with Chef Chris for a couple of minutes. One of the things he emphasized was that while he and his assistant chef(I may have the title wrong) Beverley did the majority of the line cooking, as much of the other items as possible were prepared by the students.
We also talked a little bit about the challenges in training staff who are living with developmental and cognitive deficits. One of the things that struck me here was how Chris emphasized finding the strengths each student had and working to build those up. The focus of this program is very much on taking what is already good and making it better. Another thing I really appreciated is there doesn’t seem to be any limits placed on what a student may achieve. Most students may not get passed achieving their Food Handlers Certificate, or even get that far, but for the occasional student who does, other possibilities for training may be open to them.
After having lunch at the Lunch Bell, I could tell you to go and try it out because it’s a worthy cause. It is. However, as a food blogger, I’d rather tell you to go and try it out, because it provides great fresh food, a wonderful atmosphere and a great value for your dollar. In the case of the Lunch Bell Bistro, I can tell you both. The Lunch Bell Bistro is all that, plus it gives you an opportunity to experience Main Street north of Portage in a new way. Sounds like a win, win, win situation.