Chorney-Booth: Way of Normal designs Calgary’s best new restaurants

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Calgary has a long history of celebrating beautiful design-forward restaurants. While restaurant design has definitely come a long way over the last decade or so on a global level, our city has long been home to visionaries like Sal Howell (River Cafe, Deane House) and the late Witold Twardowski (Mescalero, Divino, and many others), who have created restaurants with rooms as appetizing as the food coming out of the kitchens. More recently, new Calgary restaurants have developed a bit of a signature “look,” often spearheaded by the Concorde Entertainment Group and its regular partner in design Frank Architecture (Major Tom, Bridgette Bar, etc). Now there’s a new firm in town called Way of Normal looking to make its mark on how restaurants look and feel.

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Way of Normal has only been around for about a year, but principal designer Landon Anholt was shaping the design of local restaurants for many years with firms Fort Architecture and McKinley Burkart before branching off to create his new company, with designers Joel Riep and Adrienne Cunningham joining the team. The idea was to create a firm that doesn’t just take on restaurant clients but intentionally specializes in food and beverage venue design.

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Anholt says he’s always been drawn to the energy of restaurants, dreaming of becoming both a designer and a chef when he was in high school. In addition to designing the overall look of a room, Way of Normal and its sister company Good Spoils take care of the fine details (furniture, uniforms, playlists) that make sitting in a restaurant a complete and even emotional experience rather than just a place to consume food.

While some local designers have built their reputations on signature visual elements, Anholt and Co. take pains to avoid creating a Way of Normal “style,” though very keen observers may start to recognize the company’s work just by virtue of it being unrecognizable.

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“Our ethos is our style should come through in the operation of the restaurant, not as a look,” Anholt says. “We want to design a space for the restaurateurs, not for us. If you give them something that doesn’t fit with them, their restaurant isn’t going to work.”

So, what does a Landon Anholt/Way of Normal design look like? In addition to local rooms like Pat and Betty, Ol’ Beautiful and Central Taps, these are some of the designer’s greatest hits:

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The new Buon Giorno on 17th Avenue S.W. looks like the original version which has been torn down. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

Buon Giorno
Walk into the new Buon Giorno and you’ll find a faithful interpretation of the original version of the decades-old restaurant — now torn down to make way for a new building — which is exactly the point. Anholt and his team worked with Buon Giorno’s ownership to recreate the slightly awkward entrance and hostess stand, checkered tablecloth aesthetic, and 1980s woodwork and tiles that made the landmark restaurant so beloved. The new build looks like it’s existed for 40 years, in the best way imaginable.

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Primary Colours is one of many restaurants designed by Way of Normal. Darren Makowichuk/ Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

Primary Colours
One of the more muted designs in the Way of Normal portfolio, Britannia’s Primary Colours is, ironically enough, a calming oasis of light wood and neutral tones. The large and airy multi-purpose space deftly serves as both a brunch and dinner restaurant, as well as a café and grab-and-go shop, and has a centrepiece open kitchen.

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A unique VIP booth with a beaded entrance is shown at Class Clown on 4th St S.W. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

Class Clown
One of the most well-embraced restaurants to open in the last year, Class Clown is heralded for its burgers, but also its meticulously detailed retro styling. Anholt says the design works because the 1970s rec room look contrasts with a modern soundtrack, creating some dissonance and taking the decor from slightly cheesy to ultra-cool.

South Block BBQ & Brewing Co.  Brendan Miller/Postmedia
South Block BBQ & Brewing Co.  Brendan Miller/Postmedia Brendan Miller/Postmedia

South Block
A traditional BBQ joint with an in-house brewery and music venue, South Block exudes a Southern backyard feel, even from its interior. Communal tables and a whisky-stacked bar signify this is a place to sit back and enjoy life while indulging in a drink and platter of smoked meat.

Anholt says Way of Normal has plenty of other projects on the go and he’s keeping on top of trends to keep Calgary on the same playing field as cities like Toronto and Los Angeles. For more information about Way of Normal, visit wayofnormal.com.

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In other restaurant news, it can be disappointing when plans to eat out in the city are thwarted by the tradition of many marquee restaurants not opening on Monday evenings. With this in mind, for the first time since 2020, Shokunin is now open on Mondays, a wise move given the restaurant’s prominence and attraction to travellers who may be visiting the city for just a night or two. The restaurant remains closed on Tuesday evenings but now opens at 5 p.m. every other night of the week. Shokunin is located at 2016 4th St. S.W. and can be reached through shokuninyyc.ca.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

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