Hayloft reimagines the steakhouse in southwest Edmonton

· The Pulse

Chef Paul Shufelt has opened Hayloft Steak and Fish and a third location of Woodshed Burgers in the southwest Edmonton neighbourhood of Cameron Heights, adding to the Robert Spencer Hospitality stable alongside Workshop Eatery and The Greenhouse.

In Shufelt's words, the new development came about through "dumb luck and persistence." Last fall, a customer who resides in Cameron Heights was insistent that Shufelt take a look at a vacant building in his area. Eventually, Shufelt agreed to meet the landlord for a walk-through.

"I immediately saw the potential," he said. "I would compare it to how a chef would respond when you give him a black box of ingredients and his mind starts racing on how to put everything together."

Although some suggested that Shufelt should simply replicate Workshop Eatery in a new spot, he didn't want to take away from the original. "We wanted to complement Workshop Eatery and maintain true to what we do and the relationships with our farmers," said Shufelt. "This is how Hayloft Steak and Fish came to be."

Still, Shufelt recognized the restaurant would have to be tailored to meet the needs of the neighbourhood. "It's one thing to do the thing you want, but will the community take to that?" he said. Factoring in the design of the space, which features a lounge on one side, pairing a higher-end restaurant with a more affordable offering made sense.

"I like to go out for a nice steak dinner, but I can't afford to do that every day," said Shufelt. "Maybe you're celebrating a special occasion, and you go to the steakhouse side one day, but a week later, you're stopping in with the kids and grabbing a burger after a hockey game or when you don't feel like cooking."

Combining Hayloft and Woodshed Burgers in one place also has the benefit of upholding company's philosophy. "It allows us to hold true to 'use the whole animal'," said Shufelt. "Traditional steakhouses leave much of the animal behind with the farmer. This would help us move the lesser known cuts of beef."

Paul Shufelt in front of a wine rack and a refrigerator full of meat

"People are ready to get out of the house and dine again," said Paul Shufelt as he prepared to open Hayloft Steak + Fish as well as a third Woodshed Burgers. (Mack Male/Flickr)

At its core, Hayloft seeks to offer something different from a traditional steakhouse. "We're trying to redefine what a steakhouse is, and get away from the conventional expectation that you're going to have the same cuts of beef every night," said Shufelt.

Exclusively serving Nonay beef from Lakeside Dairy, the steak selections will change on a daily basis. "We will try to be mindful of selecting cuts based on night of the week," said Shufelt. "On Sunday nights, we might do a cross-rib roast for a traditional Sunday dinner feel. On Monday or Tuesday, we will have value cuts, versus Friday or Saturday nights, when we might offer the 90-day aged rib-eye, or wagyu tenderloin." Similarly, the fish program is based entirely on seasonal catch brought in by fishmonger Effing Seafoods.

Shufelt acknowledges that opening up a more formal restaurant right now is a risk, especially given the pandemic-related growth over the past two years of more casual eateries with take-out ready options. But he believes the community is finally ready to embrace dining out in greater numbers.

"People miss gathering socially," said Shufelt. "How many special occasions have we missed over the last couple of years? People are ready to get out of the house and dine again. It's always darkest before the dawn, and I feel that the dawn is around the corner."

Taproot writer Sharon Yeo and co-founder Mack Male were among those hosted by Hayloft Steak + Fish at the media launch last week.