Vons Steakhouse & Oyster Bar
By Gene Kosowan

Old favourites

When the vibrancy of Old Strathcona collides with the economic uncertainty that comes with a petroleum-based economy, it's tough to keep up a business. Signs, storefronts and shingles change all the time as numerous nightclubs, retailers and eateries have come and gone from the trendy neighbourhood.

But not Vons Steak House and Oyster Bar, which has weathered the storms through thick and thin since it was launched in 1988 by David Vaughan, who named the spot as a play on his last name. Several owners later, Barry Sparrow – who also owns country bar Cook County Saloon less than a block away – sold it to Himmy and Gurchawan Daliwhal, who loved the restaurant so much they made no plans to change a thing. And who would? The notion of making a profit out of creating steaks from Alberta beef, envied worldwide for its quality, seemed like a no-brainer at the time and has since become a rewarding investment.

Alissa Hildahl, the restaurant's manager, credits the quality of the food and dedication of its workforce for its durability. "We focus highly on service," Alissa says. "Our guests are the most important part of any restaurant, and we pride ourselves on our return business." The Steak Oscar – an upgrade from the Steak Neptune of old – still ranks among the most in-demand entrees, thanks to its toppings of asparagus, crab, shrimp, scallop and a garlic cream sauce. Ditto for Vons' prime rib and goat cheese fillet dishes. "All the old favourites are still here," Alissa says. "The core of our menu remains the same."

All the things that make your steak taste really good are things that happen very quickly here in the kitchen. - Mike Doppler, chef
Vons Steak House and Oyster Bar serves up AAA-quality beef on a daily basis.
Chef Mike Doppler ensures the beef used at Vons is of AAA quality. Photo by Gene Kosowan

Season simply

Alissa says all the beef is aged for a minimum of 28 days to ensure the best flavor, but that’s not all that goes into a great dish at Vons. "It's not so much the preparation that differs, it's the execution more than anything else," says Mike Doppler, who's been a chef at Vons since 2015. "We season simply. We use kosher salt, crack black pepper and then we use a high-heat infrared broiler for our steaks, which means you get between 1,600 to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. That means all the things that make your steak taste really good are things that happen very quickly here in the kitchen."

Mike adds Von's doesn't scrimp on the quality of Alberta beef the restaurant purchases. "For the bulk of what we do, such as our prime rib, ribeye and tenderloin, we use sterling silver beef, which grades out at the top 10 or 12 percent of all beef in Canada," he says. "That's AAA or higher."

Vons Steak House and Oyster Bar boasts a large dining room for all occasions.
Vons Steak House and Oyster Bar offers a private dining room for special occasions. Photo by Gene Kosowan.

Oyster Bar

For a while, Vons operated as a steak and fish house until ownership decided to add an oyster bar to the food lineup. With suppliers from both the east and west coast providing the shellfish, oysters have since become a popular draw, especially as "buck-a-shuck" specials. "We decided to go with it a few years ago," Alissa recalls. "We carried maybe three or four different kinds of oysters and then went for a full- fledged oyster program. We now carry up to 15 to 20 different varieties daily."

Alissa likes the fact that Vons isn't a chain restaurant, which helps to gauge success much quicker than a corporate counterpart. "Being an independent restaurant gives us the ability to make changes whenever we want," she says. "That includes things like sourcing from local businesses and farms, because we don't have to follow a corporate structure.  We have that ability to change with the demand of the customer a lot quicker because we don't have to go through any corporate protocols."

Vons also has three private rooms which cater everything from small intimate functions to larger parties, weddings, meetings, birthdays and anniversaries. But the thing Alissa loves most about Vons is its hospitable environment – something she believes is also a draw for its clientele. "It's just a great place to work," she says. "We have great owners and great customers."

Vons Steak House and Oyster Bar has been open in Old Strathcona since 1988.
Vons has been a mainstay in Old Strathcona since 1988. Photo by Gene Kosowan.
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