Midway treats without the Calgary Stampede at new southeast cafe

Forest Lawn store opened at the end of May and owner says they were flooded with people

Shannon Blair, front of house manager, whips up some cotton candy at Carnival Cafe. MAHA S YAHYA / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Calgary won’t have Stampede this year but you can find your favorite Midway munchies at the Carnival Cafe in Forest Lawn.

At a time when mom and pop shop restaurant closures are making the headlines, business partners Trent Ell and Alexander Dunn bit the bullet and launched Carnival Cafe.

“Skip the Dishes was never part of the plan but that’s how we started,” said Dunn. When Carnival Cafe opened its doors on May 29, they were “flooded with customers.”

It started with a conversation about where to find good homemade corndogs and mini donuts last summer.

“The only time you can get good carnival food is during Stampede and that seemed crazy to us,” said Dunn.

The idea was in place prior to the pandemic and the everyone on board was excited to see how it would manifest.  

On April 23, the official announcement came down that the 2020 Calgary Stampede would be cancelled this year.

“The stars just aligned with Stampede not happening this year,” said Ell.

“It’s driven a lot of hype and a lot of pressure on us to do a good job.”

On Mondays, the restaurant is closed to the public. It turns into a “food lab” where the team experiments with flavors and perfects their recipes.

“We want to add more colorful food, super corndogs, crazy burgers, craft cotton candy and insane flavors people have never heard of to their menu,” said Dunn.

The grand vision for Carnival Cafe is to “breathe new life into the neighbourhood” and “to make the corner cool again” for everyone.  

He believes this part of the inner city is under-valued.

“We’re a strong community and there’s a tremendous support system around here,” said Dunn.

Co-owners Trent Ell (left) and Alexander Dunn pose outside their new venture at the end of a successful day Carnival Cafe in Calgary Monday, June 8, 2020. Ell and Dunn have been friends for over a decade and are excited to serve Calgarians a taste of the midway all year around. MAHA S YAHYA / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Making food in a COVID-19 world

Operating during a pandemic is a learning curve for the new business and they’re taking it stride.

Alyssa Charles, Carnival Cafe’s chef and kitchen manager thought the restaurant concept was a niche to be filled when she joined in February.

“I was on board from the start,” she said.

The food industry has changed a lot the past four months. Adapting to guidelines and executing good food in the safest way possible is on everyone’s minds, she said.

“Calgary is missing their Stampede food experience and we’re trying to spread the joy that they’re missing,” Charles said.

Carnival Cafe is located at 2650 – 36 Street SE and available on Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats and DoorDash.

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