Good to go


The day has barely begun, but employees are already preparing for the onslaught of patrons chomping at the bit for a taste of the fresh, quick-service dining experience that has recently become de rigueur at Canada’s largest urban mall. After two years of design, development and construction, The Urban Eatery at the Toronto Eaton Centre – the crown jewel of a $120-million revitalization – is a landmark example of new urbanism in a largely suburban product. Unlike its dark and cramped predecessor, the new food court is conceived as an airy social marketplace where food is presented as theatre and the cuisine is a reflection of Toronto’s multicultural landscape.

Reflective of the wide choice of dining options urbanites expect, 24 tenants were selected, a cosmopolitan combination of familiar food-court stalwarts along with a variety of atypical, local specialty restaurants. In very few food courts will you find a vegan restaurant sharing space with a crêperie and a KFC.

The owner, Cadillac Fairview, brought in the best in Canadian commercial design to execute its vision. The creation  of all communal spaces was in the hands of principal architect Giannone Petricone Associates; while five firms – Burdifilek, Dialogue 38, Full Scale + Partners, II By IV, and GHA Design Studios – were challenged to create a unique design for each vendor. 

Accommodating 900 diners, the Urban Eatery is bereft of monotonous, repetitive seating and bland colour schemes. Bent plywood chairs sit side by side with mid-century standards by Vernor Pantone and Henry Bertoia. Pod, bistro, banquet and feature seating accommodate a variety of small and large groups, while vendor integrated bar seating encourages customers to fully immerse themselves in the culinary experience. Scattered pops of bright orange and red add energy and vibrancy. 

Overall, the use of large, open kitchen spaces, exposed hoods and food preparation places cooking front and centre. High ceilings, modern architectural lighting and improved signage standards add bold accents while enhancing the space.

With vendors equally split among each studio, the designers – with the encouragement of Cadillac Fairview – went about pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a typical food-court stall. This carte-blanche approach allowed them to transform each space into a form characteristic of the brand itself, while still being wholly distinct. With a mandate to use only the best materials, they created spaces rich in architectural details. Providing a backdrop to the frenetic cooking of Thai Express is a striking 10-by-30-foot, Thai-inspired mural encased in glass. Screens of polished metal (iconic MacDonalds) “M”s give McDonalds – of all places – true elegance. A gradient of yellow and green glass subway tiles adds subtle sophistication to the Subway restaurant. Glass-encased, reclaimed wood crates at Poutinerie by New York Fries proudly showcase the day’s fresh ingredients. KFC, with its gleaming single form, white solid surface counter, LED-illuminated glass and copious amounts of digital screens, appears to have been designed in the mid–21st century.

Subtle details throughout the stalls demonstrate the well-thought-out nature of the project. At Bourbon St. Grill, steam wells are designed to resemble cast-iron barbeques, while a feature wall at Ruby Thai/Shanghai evokes the woven bamboo of a traditional dim sum container. Over at Liberty Noodle, carefully selected photography proudly displays the joys of consuming ramen. Vegan restaurant Urban Herbivore manages to integrate recycle glass bottles into its counter.

Then there’s the matter of sustainability. State-of-the art scullery operation enables diners to eat from custom-designed, reusable tableware with real cutlery and glassware. Trash and recycle bins are noticeably absent in the space, replaced by five stations staffed by Urban Eatery hosts. Dishes, waste and recyclables are promptly removed and sorted. A solid waste compactor reduces food waste by up to 88 per cent. With its green initiative, the Urban Eatery at the Toronto Eaton Centre will be able to divert millions of pieces of packaging containers, cups and plastic cutlery from ending up in a landfill.

By challenging food court conventions and rethinking every aspect of the express dining experience, the Urban Eatery is setting a new design standard for the urban food market.  cI


When the going gets tough, the tough get…macaroni and cheese? That’s what the folks at B.C. real-estate development firm Epta Properties hoped to make happen. Inspired by the tough times we’re living through, Epta envisioned a quick-service restaurant that could console the crowds – in Vancouver, to start – with the ultimate comfort food. And so the concept of The MAC Shack was born. The first location opened this past October in Vancouver’s upscale Kerrisdale neighbourhood (the owners hope to open three more “shacks” in the city this year). 

Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but we’re not talking Kraft Dinner here – but rather the crème de la crème of mac and cheese: the pasta and sauces are made from scratch; gluten-free and whole wheat pasta versions are available; and among menu items are deluxe variations with blue cheese, four cheeses, and lobster. What’s more, the open kitchen allows customers to watch their dishes prepared immediately after ordering. 

The enviable task of designing the MAC Shack went to Karin Bohne and her team at Vancouver-based Moeski Consulting Inc. “First and foremost we took inspiration from the food as our design direction,” says Bohne. “What better way to reflect the concept of macaroni and cheese than to provide an environment of cheesy goodness! Well not literally, but the rich and creamy orange walls were taken as inspiration from a bowl of traditional macaroni, and the graphic black and white floors are a playful approach to salt and pepper.”

Local reclaimed barn wood and rustic tabletops put the “shack” in the MAC Shack. Grace notes include retro amber glass pendants and, covering the back of chairs and barstools, a cheerful plaid  called Bregenz, from German textile company Höpke. 

The result is warm, woody, cheerful, comfortable – and as comforting as mac and cheese. cI


Start spreading the news: SnackBox, located in the heart of New York, New York’s fabled Times Square, is a smash hit. Designed by two Montreal-based firms – Ædifica and MuvBox – the snazzy fast-food venue, which opened last October, recently picked up two awards at the Retail Design’s Institute’s 2011 International Store Design Competition: in the Pop Up Store/Shop category, and in the Special Awards category for sustainable design.

The man behind SnackBox is innovative New York restaurateur Jonathan Morr, whose notion it was to open an eatery at the iconic site. Among 80 proposals, he chose Ædifica and MuvBox’s 20-foot-long shipping container, a modern-day reinvention of the old-fashioned canteen, with the right edgy, New York vibe to serve New York street food.

Standing out in such a visually saturated, high-traffic environment was a challenge. The designers’ solution was a brilliant one: the SnackBox’s black and white graphic stripes contrast crisply with the neon Technicolor of the neighbourhood. 

Located on
a section of Broadway that is now closed off to vehicular traffic, SnackBox is easily movable and entirely self-sufficient. It works off the grid, its fresh- and grey-water supply tanks embedded in the floor; a hybrid energy system, combining electric batteries and generator, supplies the power. The upper section of the walls pivot upward, transforming into cantilevered steel awnings that provide shelter from the elements. Inside, the limited space is carefully planned and apportioned. On cold days, heat from the generator is recuperated to keep the staff warm. 

Though located at the very heart of “the city that doesn’t sleep,” SnackBox isn’t open 24-7: at night, it vanishes into itself, ready to deploy in minutes early the next morning.  cI