Halifax-themed restaurant satisfying East Coast cravings out West

An Alberta restaurant serving East Coast favourites is striking a chord with Atlantic Canadians and Western Canadians alike — and it has plans to keep spreading the greasy, garlicky Maritime grub across the rest of the country.Seven years ago, Josh Robinson, like many Nova Scotians, moved to Alberta to pursue a career in the oil and gas industry.But there was a problem. He couldn't get his hands on some of his favourite food from his home province."I pick up the phone to order a pizza and, obviously, ask for garlic fingers as well," he said in a phone interview. "When they don't have a clue what a garlic finger is, that was kind of that first wake-up call."The seed was planted early on: why not start a restaurant serving food specific to the East Coast?After spending five years working in oil and gas, Robinson decided to make his dream a reality. He teamed up with two business partners and, in early 2017, they opened the first Blowers & Grafton location in Calgary. A second location followed in Edmonton in 2018.The restaurant is named after the intersection of Blowers and Grafton streets in Halifax, known to locals as "Pizza Corner," to pay homage to the street food that can be found in the city's downtown at all hours of the night.The menu is filled with Maritime staples — lobster rolls, garlic fingers, Brothers pepperoni, fish and chips, and of course, the Halifax donair, piled high with spicy meat and drizzled with sticky-sweet donair sauce.Eatery popular among East Coast expatsRobinson said many of the ingredients are imported from the Maritimes."We ship in blueberries, lobster, scallops, haddock, mussels, steamer clams, from the same places that the best spots in Shediac, New Brunswick, get," he said."Pictou County pizza sauce — I'm not sure if you're familiar with that — but we ship that in by the bucket. And it's so cool that people from all over the country are eating Pictou County pizza sauce."The restaurant also has Alexander Keith's — the quintessential Nova Scotian beer — on tap.Robinson says many of the restaurant's customers hail from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Prince Edward Island, likely folks who have moved out West and are hungry for a taste of home."There is a large chunk of our customers everyday that are from from all over the Maritimes, some even visiting at times," he said. "It's always cool because there's just someone from every part of the Maritimes every day throughout the day, whether it's lunch or dinner."Robinson said the restaurant has gotten so successful that they're now looking for franchise opportunities in other areas of Alberta, as well as in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.He said someday, he'd like to see a Blowers & Grafton in every province — including the Maritime ones.Fewer Maritimers moving out WestAt one point, people from the Maritime provinces were leaving for Western Canada in droves. Statistics show those numbers have dropped by half over the past five years, with Ontario now a more popular destination.Robinson said he isn't concerned that fewer East Coast folks are coming to Alberta, because he said the restaurant also brings in plenty of Albertans, as well as people from other parts of Canada."They're really enjoying these foods that kind of weren't out here a few years ago at all," he said."What truly fills my heart is that all this food and ingredients that we grew up with back home are being enjoyed by other Canadians."He also believes that Alberta has built up a strong base of Maritimers who have already found a permanent home in the province.Samim Aminzadah, one of his business partners, agreed. He said the dishes once mainly known in the Atlantic provinces are now making waves in Alberta."The boys and girls that grew up here … now they use 'the East Coast donair,' or 'the Halifax donair,' or 'the garlic fingers' in their everyday lingo," he said. While Aminzadah is originally from Calgary, he said he's fallen in love with the taste of East Coast food.Blowers & Grafton isn't the only restaurant capitalizing on homesick Maritimers out West.Last year, the Halifax street food favourite King of Donair announced that they opened a store in Edmonton. It now has three Alberta locations, as well as a location in Saskatoon, Sask.MORE TOP STORIES

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