John Williams opened up the Blue Plate Diner in 2004, when Edmonton’s downtown scene was struggling a little. Initially, Blue Plate Diner neighboured a seedy hotel on one end of the street, and dilapidated warehouses on the other. A lot has changed since then, with a vibrant downtown core growing all the time. Today, the hotel is gone, two high-rises have gone up, and those warehouses have been turned into highly sought-after condos. “I’d like to think we were instrumental in that change,” says John. “We were one of the first restaurants and businesses. I kind of think we became a destination restaurant at that time and encouraged other people to look at this street with fresh eyes.”
The popular downtown market now sets up outside the Blue Plate Diner’s door during the summer, further adding to the street’s trendy vibe. “That was huge. That definitely added value to the atmosphere as well.”
The Blue Plate Diner was ahead of the trends with its long-time focus on local ingredients. “It seems like such a simple concept when you hear it today: local food made by real people,” says John. His success isn’t just due to the quality of the food but also in a new approach to meeting customers' needs. John and his business partner, Rima Devitt, saw a void in how restaurants catered to vegetarians. When they would go out, John says they would find vegetarian options were just thrown onto the menu and were never very high-quality. They knew there was a better way of doing it.
John envisioned a restaurant where anyone could find good food, whether it be meat-eaters, vegetarians or vegans. “We sell almost as many veggie burgers with bacon than without bacon,” he says. “That tells me it’s a pretty good veggie burger. It’s a good dish that happens to be a veggie dish.”
The growing dining scene in Edmonton has seen an influx of independent restaurants that can be challenging, but John says the Blue Plate Diner continues to be successful because he stays true to their philosophy while still listening to what their customers want. “You have to be flexible, be willing to change some things, but be unwilling to sacrifice others,” he says. “We have been faithful to our original mantra, which is ‘quality food, made by people, from scratch’.”