Each year since it opened, Banff Ave Brewing Co. has given back. Including this very unique year.
“It’s Reading Week,” says Meesh Souliere. “So we’ve had a pretty awesome week.” As with everything this year, that ‘awesome’ comes with a few qualifications. She admits that “this time last year, I remember running around the restaurant. It was just packed all the time. And now, you know, we’re getting a table every 20 minutes or so.”
Still, the days have been steady. Souliere is the general manager of Banff Ave Brewing Co., and, it’s clear that she’s prone to looking at the bright side of things. “By night, we’re full. Last night we had a two-hour waitlist.” Given the protocols—tables six feet apart, behind barriers, a maximum of six people at each—the space fills quickly. “But people were diehards and they waited,” she says. She doesn’t say it outright, but there’s a pervading sense of gratitude that “at least we’re open.”
The restaurant’s guests think so, too, and Banff Ave Brewing Co. has its fair share of enthusiastic fans. The story of the buffalo chicken sandwich is a case in point. “We can’t get rid of it,” says Souliere with a chuckle. It’s been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2010. “Every time a new chef comes in, we try to tweak it, and then every time it just blows up in our face and the public speaks. One time we had a guy start a Facebook page, ‘Bring back the crispy chicken!’ So, the locals won that one for sure.” And so, the buffalo chicken sandwich stays.
“We have a really good local following which is amazing, because when it’s been a slower time—now during the COVID period – our locals are kind of saving us.” She says that her team feels “lucky,” though luck arguably doesn’t play a role. The business enjoys the support of the community in equal measure to the support it offers back the community. The Brew Co. buys supplies locally (the focaccia for the buffalo chicken sandwich is from the Wild Flour bakery, just around the corner, for example). It also supports local initiatives.
Since its first year of operations, four times a year, Banff Ave Brewing Co. creates a special brew in honour of a local cause, with a portion of the proceeds going to support it. This month (February 2021) and through to the end of March, they’re pouring in support of the Banff Canmore Community Foundation (BCCF). The brew master describes the “Better Together Red Lager” as a smooth and full-bodied Vienna lager with a bready malt character yet distinctly crisp finish.
“It’s been going over well,” Souliere says. “We bring samples to every table. It’s good for the server to communicate with the table that it’s our newest beer on tap and that it goes to a charity.” Often the server will also mention the work of the BCCF. “They’re ordering it because they’re liking it so much and also because it’s helping a cause.”
The power of community
The fact that they’re continuing the program this year is telling of the kind of business Banff Ave Brewing Co. is. For months, their doors were shuttered, reopening just two weeks ago, and now operating at a fraction of capacity. Yet, through it all, they’re still offering the proceeds, still recognizing and promoting local charities to their guests.
Souliere is confident that there are better days ahead, that we’ll all get through this and meet up again on the other side better than ever. So, they keep on keeping on, sticking with the program. That includes ongoing renovations of a restaurant next door, formerly Athena Pizza. It had been in business since 1976 and while the name is new—it’s been rechristened Banff Ave Pizza—the tradition remains, as do the recipes. There is also a retail store in the basement. “Everyone loves our merchandise so much, we had to make a little store.”
It’s really a great place to be. There’s beer, there’s food, and there’s connection. The company website describes the pub as a central hub of local culture, “drawing strength from the dynamic Banff community and inspiration from the Rocky Mountains.”
Certainly, it’s a prime example of what it means to be part of a community, to take part in it, and to serve others, both literally and figuratively. Community clearly means a lot to Souliere. “It’s just kind of been a team effort,” she says. “We just want to help each other.” Indeed, that’s it. And they are doing just that.
Banff Ave Brewing Co. is at 110 Banff Ave and open Monday to Friday 12pm to 10pm, and Saturday and Sunday 11:30am to 10pm.