Sugar Bowl Coffee & Juice Bar
By Sarah Sussman

A home away from home

Since it first opened back in 1943, Sugarbowl has always been Garneau's destination restaurant and and community hub. Throughout the '40s and '50s, the place operated as a burger joint and then as a coffeehouse during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Currently under the ownership of Abel Shiferaw, the place has evolved into what is is now – a home away from home.

After years of serving two doors down at the High-level Diner, Abel took over Sugarbowl with a vision to evolve the space. “Abel has always had a love of Belgian-style beers and at the time when he took the place over, no one was really doing beer,” explains general manager Matteo Zenari. “He started out with mostly Belgian beer and that’s kind of always been his main focus.” Since then, Sugarbowl has evolved to include microbrews and craft beer while still retaining a love for the Belgian style of beers.

Upon entry, Sugarbowl boasts a dimly-lit modern rustic interior with brick walls, antique chandeliers, wooden tables and exposed piping aplenty. It’s a home away from home for many and evokes the low key vibe of a giant family living room. “We like to be that community hub for university students, people living in the residential area and also the other nearby businesses,” Matteo explains. “That’s the general thing we want to go for – just a place where you can be comfortable.”

We like to be that community hub for university students, people living in the residential area and also the other nearby businesses. - Matteo Zenari, general manager
Sugarbowl is a community hub for university students, residents in the area and people working nearby.
Sugarbowl general manager Matteo Zenari started working at his father's restaurant Zenari's at the age of 15 and has worked in restaurants ever since. Photo by Sarah Sussman

Living the sweet life

He’s only been working at Sugarbowl since 2017, but Matteo has an extensive history in Edmonton’s restaurant industry. He started working at his father’s restaurant Zenari’s at the age of 15 and later went to college at NAIT to study business. “It wasn’t actually until I went to college that I realized restaurants were my thing,” Matteo explains. “I tried other industries, but the call to be in restaurants was just too much."

Long before he started working at Sugarbowl, Matteo recalls coming to the place on a first date. “We were on the patio having patio beers and it was just an exceedingly comfortable place,” he says. “The place is always busy so there’s always a buzz going on. It’s just a fun environment to be in." Much to his excitement, Matteo wound up getting poached by Abel to come on board as general manager. “Abel is good friends with my older brother," Matteo explains. "He came by Zenari’s when I was managing there and we got to talking.” Matteo started serving at Sugarbowl in February 2017 and was promoted to manager by July.

Sugarbowl has made its beer list a priority, with a wide selection of local and other beers.
Sugarbowl has an extensive beer list of Belgian beers as well as craft beers from breweries like Troubled Monk Brewery in Red Deer. Photo courtesy of Sugarbowl

Make yourself comfortable

The menu at Sugarbowl stars comforting home-cooked grub with ingredients sourced regionally where possible from suppliers including FUGE Fine Meat, Mo-Na Food and The Italian Centre. The place opens at 8 a.m. with its breakfast-brunch menu and serves dinner until 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.

Sugarbowl has numerous standout dishes like the lamb burger and Sugarbowl benny and has evolved its menu over the years to capitalize on the strengths of its kitchen staff. “Sometimes a kitchen manager will come in who has experience in a certain area and they’ll bring in some of that influence,” Matteo explains. When he started at Sugarbowl, kitchen manager Joe Cutting introduced a chicken curry stew as a nod to his Indian cooking background, while other employees have introduced dishes like the high-end style braised beef and, of course, those legendary chicken and waffles.

One of Matteo’s own personal favourites, the breakfast menu cinnamon buns, are an Edmonton legend. The rumour goes that Highlevel Diner and Sugarbowl started off with the exact same recipe years ago. Highlevel Diner altered theirs to include more butter, while Sugarbowl opted to add more sugar (of course). “Our top sellers are the cinnamon buns – hands down,” Matteo says. “What makes them so good? I still don’t know. I have a feeling it’s the original dough recipe that’s been used forever and the copious amounts of sugar in there.”

Sugarbowl's chicken and waffles are an long-standing Edmonton classic.
The popular chicken and waffles dish is a gut-busting plate of buttermilk and spice-marinated chicken breast, maple butter and watermelon salsa. Photo courtesy of Sugarbowl

The hub for art and music

Much like its menu, the restaurant's interior is constantly changing with local artwork displayed for sale. The pieces are curated by Sugarbowl employee and University of Alberta fine arts student Jessa Gillespie. Sugarbowl doesn’t take any cut off the sales and gives all proceeds directly to the artists. “We just try to go with something that’s comfortable and also different and creative,” Matteo explains. “We’re trying to switch it up all the time and not have the same stuff over and over and over again.”

In that very same manner, one of things Sugarbowl prides itself in most is its ever-changing music taste. “Whoever is the bartender chooses the music, so it’s always changing,” Matteo says. “Every now and then we’ll have the Beatles playing or classical and sometimes we have rock or hip-hop or R&B. But it’s always different.” Matteo is partial to Euro-lounge music while Gessa (who usually works the morning shift) has a penchant for folk tunes. “I feel like it adds to the whole ‘this is your second home’ feel,” Matteo says. “It always keeps things fresh."

And that's precisely how Sugarbowl has achieved destination status. Every time you go something will be a little bit different from what you remember. “The restaurant industry is a constantly evolving thing and what ends up killing places is if they can’t evolve,” Matteo explains. “So that’s  just what we’re trying to do.”

Sugarbowl is a popular Edmonton eatery among university students and residents of the area.
Sugarbowl has been a Garneau landmark since it first opened as a burger joint in 1943. Photo by Sarah Sussman
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