Local homelike restaurant owners share their stories and most popular items

Mom-and-pop shops can sometimes have a hard time competing with big businesses. But, in our Prairie city we found four family-run eateries that keep delivering Calgarians mouthwatering foodie experiences: the Fine Diner, El Charrito Taqueria, Keith’s Deli and Fat City Franks.

Fine Diner — Rob Greco

Rob Greco, owner of the Fine Diner, is in his kitchen where the assembly of his modern culinary comfort food is all put together.

Photo by Alexandra Fish1420 9th Ave. S.E.
(403) 234-8885

The Fine Diner is nestled in the SE community of Inglewood, and offers a truly delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner experience on select days. Rob Greco worked in the restaurant and bar industry for many years before deciding to open up the Fine Diner, in 2012, with his homemade comfort food recipes.

What is the most popular item on the menu?

“The Eggs Florentine is the most popular dish, and has organic spinach, house cured bacon all on top of a ciabatta bun, which is then covered with hollandaise sauce. A medley of potatoes, from sweet potatoes to Russian blues, is paired with fresh fruit on the side of the dish.”

Greco described the eggs benny as “buttery, yolky, goodness.” You get the sweetness from the bacon, bitterness with the spinach, and crunch from the ciabatta, smothered in their house made hollandaise sauce.

Most popular drink to serve with this menu item?

“Mimosas, are great with everything,” Greco said with a laugh.

What have you taken from your family and brought to the restaurant business?

“My inspiration for the Fine Diner came from my dad. His thing he always told me was that you need to put your best out, always. You have to put out quality, he would say, and this has stuck with me throughout all of the cooking in my life. I prepare everything the best that I can.”

Where do you and your family like to go out to eat on a night off?

“To Pegasus, the Greek restaurant. I used to work there for years as a waiter, they’re still a family to me. Pegasus is my go to in Altadore.”

“Model Milk is another restaurant we go to, I love their skill, it’s mind blowing. They don’t do stuff other people do, it’s very different, always fresh. They kill it every time.”

El Charrito Taqueria — Graciela and Juan Rivera

Graciela Rivera and her brother Juan opened the doors of their new restaurant in Kensington four months ago, the second El Charrito Taqueria in Calgary, bringing authentic Jalisco fare to the city.

Photo by Olivia Condon318A 10th St. N.W.
(403) 478-2924

Business is family for brother and sister duo Graciela and Juan Rivera. The Rivera’s Jalisco roots inspire the authentic Mexican style of El Charrito Taqueria with all recipes drawing from the flavours of Western Mexico. Since opening their first restaurant in early 2011 they have now grown to two locations, on Edmonton Trail and 10th Street in Kensington.

What is the most popular item on the menu?

For sure the tacos. The soft taco is the real Mexican taco so whenever anyone visits Mexico and then comes in, they will find the same flavours. Juan and I are from Jalisco state and we are inspired by the authentic ways they do things there.

Our most popular beverage is our real Coca-Cola; [We import] Mexican Coca-Cola [which] has more sugar and a different taste that everyone loves — it’s very popular. Also the fresh waters are natural and are very healthy. One is made from hibiscus flowers, we boil them all here and they are big sellers but they are an acquired taste.

Where do you and your family like to go out to eat on a night off?

We choose different places but for example for breakfast we go to Denny’s and IHOP as a family. We like Chinese and Italian restaurants; we frequently go to Olive Garden, I love their soup. Sometimes we all go together to Red Lobster. We look for things that are totally different from our business.

What is it like to work and live with your brother?

For us, it’s nothing weird. We feel comfortable because my brother and me have lived together for roughly 10 years. We lived in the U.S. together; we were single and then I was married there, my son was born there and so we are used to it. We feel a lot of support on both sides. We trust each other with everything, so my brother works the administration and I run the business, cooking in both restaurants. Whatever problems arise we talk all the time and have weekly family meetings to see what went well and what we can improve on. For us, everything right now is perfect.

Graciela’s eight-year-old son Ernesto is also a big part of the family business, entertaining customers and catering to the kids who come to the restaurants.

At our Bridgeland location, he has an area where he plays with the kids who come in. Sometimes he will come out into the dining room and ask customers, ‘how is everything?’

Keith’s Deli — Jim Hannan

Jim Hannan, owner of Keith’s Deli, is making the family famous dish the Keith’s Special ($6.50) — a warm homemade Italian Sausage sandwich.

Photo by Alexandra Fish6100 Macleod Trail S.W.
(403) 252-5100

This small independent deli has been in operation for over 42 years.

Keith Hannan’s son, Jim Hannan now runs the family business.

It all started when Keith retired from the army in 1972, and moved home to Calgary from Germany. Jim Hannan was only a toddler at the time of the move and remembers growing up in Calgary. He recalls frequenting a deli, called the Chinook Delicatessen, back in 1968.

Jim remembered back in high school: “There wasn’t much around back in the day. [Chinook Delicatessen] was the only place you could go to get a sausage in a bun. It wasn’t great but everything was all hamburgers back in the day.”

Later in high school Jim came home and his parents told him that they bought a deli.

Jim said to his parents wondering if “it wouldn’t happen to be the Chinook Delicatessen?” with a big grin on his face.

This was the beginning for what later became known as Keith’s Deli.

What is the most popular item on the menu?

The most popular menu item, which people line out the door for is a homemade Italian sausage sandwich – known to many Calgarians as the Keith’s special ($6.50).

The Keith’s Special is then filled with lettuce, mozzarella and cheddar cheese, and then a choice of other toppings, plus dressings like mayonnaise or mustard.

We also always make a soup of the day, today was a Hungarian goulash made from scratch.

Most popular drink to serve with this menu item?

A coke pairs well with most menu items.

Where do you and your family like to go out to eat on a night off?

I spend a lot of time at the deli looking after things and don’t go out to eat too much, but when I do I stick around where the Deli is.

I like Il Centro around the corner from here, my daughter and I have gone there before.

Mainly, though, I stay in and cook. I’m not a bad cook…I can cook anything I set my mind to.

Fat City Franks — Jane and Bob Steckle

Husband and wife duo, Bob and Jane Steckle have been in business together at Fat City Franks in Mission since 2008 and continue to expand their unique menu.

Photo by Olivia Condon2015 4th St. S.W.
(403) 229-3641

The labour of love that is Fat City Franks in the heart of Mission isn’t your average hot dog shop. Their classic concoctions cater to all taste buds. From the ‘Ukranian,’ with potato and cheese perogy filling, to the ‘Italian,’ complete with bruschetta and asiago cheese, Fat City Franks has almost every national culinary cliché covered. Owners, and husband and wife, Bob and Jane Steckle started offering their 13 unique dogs in 2009 under the name Le Chien Chaud. Since then they have been featured on Canada’s “You gotta eat here” and on the UK Food Network.

What is the most popular item on the menu?

We really honestly don’t have one. People all have their own personal favourites that they come back for. If someone prefers a more traditional dog, they typically stick to the ‘Canadian’ or ‘Chicago’ dogs that have variations of ketchup, mustard and relish with a sport pepper atop the ‘Chicago.’

Where do you and Bob like to go out to eat on a night off?

We are really fussy about going out to eat. Mercato is a great one. Fleur de Sel, next door. Without Papers Pizza in Inglewood is amazing. Pizza is one thing I love and it’s all about the crust.

What is it like to work and live with your husband?

Well I guess I couldn’t do it with anyone else and neither could he. I am the hyper one and he is the calm one. But it has its moments because when you run your own business it’s 24/7, 365 days a year so when you’re physically here it’s one thing, but when we are home we’re here mentally so it’s constant. It’s not a strain but you find it’s all you do. We like to break it up and spend time with our grandkids.

ocondon@cjournal.ca 
afish@cjournal.ca 

What is your favorite mom and pop restaurant in Calgary?