Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Eaton Centre introduces Food "Theatre"

You’re in the mood for a glass of wine. How about some smoked coconut over a tempeh wrap? Maybe it’s time to head to the food court.

Banish thoughts of dirty, cramped tables stacked with trays and the same old fast-food chains. In the battle for consumer dollars, mall owners are spending millions to upgrade their offerings to a more discerning customer.

On September 1, the Toronto Eaton Centre unveils its new $48 million Urban Eatery — perhaps the most significant evolution of the Canadian food court yet, from humble taco stand to sophisticated foodie paradise.

This is definitely not the same old. Using a palate of stainless steel, slate, marble and natural woods, Eaton Centre developers have turned the former food court into a sleek, futuristic vision.

Danish designer Vernor Panton’s iconic red plastic chairs dot the 45,000-square-foot space. And diners will notice a few changes as they come down the escalator into the basement space.

For one thing, they will be welcomed by greeters. And no more eating out of foam containers with plastic forks. All food will be plated and diners will eat with real cutlery.

“If you buy a submarine from Subway, you’ll get it on a plate if you want to,” says Brian O’Hoski, retail property manager for the Eaton Centre, which attracts as many as 1 million visitors a week.

“It’s a good way to drive customers to come to a centre not just to purchase retail goods, but also to have a healthy meal at a good price,” says Chiasson.

While many familiar restaurants such as KFC and McDonald’s will be at the new food court, they are presented in original ways.

Fried chicken chain KFC, for example, has a unit that looks like a futuristic art installation, with the face of Col. Sanders beaming down like a Chairman Mao icon.

And other local eateries not normally found at a food court, such as the Urban Herbivore, a vegan specialist. A Japanese-themed restaurant will serve liquor, although only on their premises.

“It’s great to see that they’ve included people who are real foodies, who aren’t just here to make a quick buck,” says Urban Herbivore owner Stephen Gardner. This is Gardner’s fourth restaurant and his first in a mall. He expects his barbecued tofu sandwich at $9 to be a hit.

“Normally I would be on Queen St. or Kensington Market, so this will be a different crowd, but I think they’ll like what they see and taste,” said Gardner, who was on site this week, working out last minute details on the design of his restaurant.

When the mall’s new food court opens September 1, the cramped south food court will be closed, with the area being renovated for other retail.

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