Steve Brochu is reinvigorating the Citadel with a restaurant that aims to challenge

· The Pulse

The chef who owns and operates MilkCrate, a café in EPCOR Tower, and GhostLight, a coffee kiosk in the Citadel Theatre, is set to open PlayWright in the space in the Citadel that formerly housed the second Normand's location.

Steve Brochu told Taproot he's aiming for a late April launch for the 128-seat space.

"I was just driving by in March 2023 and saw the vacancy," Brochu said. "The Citadel presented a great opportunity. Our company, the people I have, have been with me for over a year. And if I didn't grow or throw a new challenge at them, they would move on. Some of them want health care or more money. An expansion creates more stability."

GhostLight, just steps from where PlayWright will open, launched in June 2023, and Brochu said it has been a slow start. "People are still finding us," he said. "Canada Place is also at the whims of a hybrid (work) schedule." But he said he's been buoyed by the brisk business on theatre nights and is positive things will pick up during the day.

That optimism informs his plans for PlayWright. Brochu knows his primary clientele will be theatregoers, and is planning the menu around that audience.

"One of the challenges for us is a large group of our people will be coming in before a show starts in 90 minutes," Brochu said. "So things will be braised, hot-held, juicy, and yummy, and filled with sauce and flavour. When people are leaving we want them to be as blown away as much as the show they are going to see."

While many businesses consolidated to reduce costs during the pandemic, Brochu expanded. MilkCrate became the preferred caterer for Arbor Memorial Homes, which supplies food to its three funeral homes in Edmonton up to six days per week.

"The lesson we learned is that if we are only generating revenue out of one thing, we're going to lose," Brochu said. "It's not going to work if you're only relying on Uber Eats and the dining room. People are eating out less or not at all."

Steve Brochu inside the Citadel Theatre

Steve Brochu, the chef behind two other downtown businesses, hopes his new restaurant PlayWright inside the Citadel Theatre will be able to provide stability for his team and encourage diners to eat outside their comfort zone. (Sharon Yeo)

But despite the theatregoear focus, Brochu hopes to appeal to other members of those who live and visit downtown, too. "We are aware that there are people who live around here, and want to be available for late-night bites or after-work drinks. Once people go into the theatre, we can fill up with more people."

Brochu said the restaurant plans to add lunch service in the future. He doesn't yet have the menu finalized but added he wants to use PlayWright as a vehicle to expose diners to a broad array of dishes.

"PlayWright is going to be a celebration of Edmonton's food. We will try and elevate delicious food in the heart of creativity downtown and have fun with our food. I like the notion that the Citadel has put faith in our experiment here and that it's the local kid getting the restaurant and not a chain or conglomerate. I want this to work. It doesn't have to be beef tenderloin and chicken supreme."

Brochu helmed the kitchen at Chartier when it opened in 2016 until he left in 2019 to start MilkCrate.

He said Edmonton can do better when it comes to unique offerings.

"We need people to invest in new ideas," Brochu said. "There are eight pasta restaurants between here and the Convention Centre. We have a problem. People love pasta, but there's so much other food. It's a very big step to change your menu and see what happens, and there were restaurants that pushed the envelope and had to move it back. We want PlayWright to have tasty food and to challenge people."

PlayWright also marks a career shift for Brochu, who will step away from the kitchen for this project. Eric Forbes, whom Brochu has known since his Chartier days, will take on the head chef role. This will enable Brochu to focus more on the broader operation.

"It's a little strange because I can't do both," Brochu said. "I will be 'Steve Brochu, restaurateur'. Young people will be bringing the energy. But I am excited to get back into a sit-down, full-service restaurant, and for the new role that it brings me."