Padmanadi and Seoul Fried Chicken tackle Calgary expansions differently

· The Pulse

Beloved Edmonton restaurants Padmanadi and Seoul Fried Chicken expanded to Calgary last year. But while both continue to chase success in Alberta's largest city, each has done so using a different recipe.

"I kind of love what I do now because I don't have to be on the floor 14 hours a day, six days a week," Padmanadi co-owner Maya Richmond told Taproot, adding that succeeding in Calgary has proven different from home. "In Edmonton, people come looking for us, instead of us going to look for people."

Richmond, her husband, and their two-year-old daughter moved from Edmonton to Calgary in 2023 to open a Padmanadi just steps from Southcentre Mall and the Heritage LRT station in Calgary's suburban southwest. In Edmonton, her father, sister, and brother-in-law now run the two other locations. The original downtown restaurant, which offers Indonesian vegan food, traces back 22 years, while the family opened the south side spot in 2019.

"Calgary is a different demographic because the city is so huge," Richmond said. "I do like Calgary. I miss home because Edmonton is always home. It's only been about nine months now and so far, so good."

Seoul Fried Chicken, which specializes in Korean fried chicken, is taking a far faster approach to its Calgary expansion. The first Calgary SFC opened in June 2023 in bustling Mission, and SFC partner Suzanna Yu said the team is already working on another potential location in the suburban northeast, near local takeout favourite Seniore's Pizza. Yu said SFC hopes to open the new Calgary spot this year. On top of that, Yu said the company will soft launch a third Edmonton outpost, at North Town Centre, in mid-June. The two 2024 openings follow the 2023 opening in Calgary, the downtown Edmonton location in 2022, and the Gateway Boulevard location in 2016.

In July 2023, When Taproot first caught up with Padmanadi and SFC about their expansions into Calgary, Richmond said rent is roughly 20% more expensive in Calgary. Yu, meanwhile, noted SFC planned to offer a duplicate menu to its Edmonton locations. Like Richmond, Yu relocated to Calgary in part to ensure the success of the expansion.

Edmonton contributing restaurants to Calgary is nothing new. Pho Hoan Pasteur, which started at its Kingsway Avenue location, now has four locations each in Edmonton and Calgary, plus one in Fort Saskatchewan. Doughnut Party is making progress in Calgary, too, given it has three Edmonton shops and one that opened in Calgary in March. The historic success story is Boston Pizza, which has expanded to more than 400 restaurants since opening its first in Edmonton in 1964.

Richmond and Yu have different experiences as they work on their expansions into Calgary. Richmond said it's difficult to go from a legacy destination to the "new kid on the block." Yu, on the other hand, doesn't notice much difference between the towns.

"I feel like our demographics throughout the two cities have been very similar, though (we attract) high school students more so in Calgary because we're close to two high schools," Yu said. "A lot of people who are in university or who are in high school, they see us as a really good deal compared to going somewhere for fast food."

The exterior of a restaurant with a sign that reads "Seoul Fried Chicken" is surrounded by a parking lot and a patio.

Seoul Fried Chicken (the Calgary location is pictured) is already gunning to open a second Calgary shop, but Padmanadi's expansion into the city has been focused on slow and steady growth. (Supplied)

Richmond officially opened the Calgary Padmanadi on Sept. 15 and is taking a patient approach to gaining market share. Thanks to a strong team, she works about 30 hours a week, predominantly on big-picture things like marketing and catering. Thirty hours a week is far below the gruelling schedule for an average restaurateur.

Richmond is careful not to measure her new store's success against the established Padmanadis. "I can't compare myself to the ones in Edmonton because they've just been around for so long, but if I compare myself to an average first-year restaurant, I think I'm doing above average," Richmond said. "We are definitely hitting all the targets. We're doing quite well in terms of being plant-based and in terms of being very new."

Yu, meanwhile, seems to be comfortable in her grind era, and is moving back to Edmonton soon. Her operation has eyed expansion since its inception, and wants to eventually pursue markets outside of Alberta.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, a Calgary journalist who writes about food for the Calgary Herald, Avenue magazine, and her own Who's Hungry, Calgary? Substack, is better versed in Padmanadi than SFC. Without making reference to the latter, she said she's seen food operators open too many locations too quickly, only to fail.

"I think it kills a lot of companies," she said. "I think can be really hard to do, but any chain restaurant we see probably started with just one."

Between Padmanadi's first Calgary restaurant and SFC's second, both of which are in the suburbs, Edmonton operators clearly see an opportunity outside the city's urban core. Chorney-Booth said the appetite for exciting restaurants is high no matter where you look in Calgary.

"Downtown is just becoming way too pricey for most people," Chorney-Booth said. "There's a lot of cool people all over the city. I think the perception that people in the further-flung suburbs are the kind of people who just want to eat at chain restaurants has gone away."

Looking ahead, SFC is still exploring opening a Windermere location in Edmonton and teased a new happy hour menu on June 5. Padmanadi's next downtown buffet is on June 15, and Richmond is looking forward to catering weddings and sharing her food at other events over the summer.