Jetsetters heading from Vancouver to Taipei, Seoul and Munich now have a new restaurant choice before settling in for 12 hours of tiny bags of pretzels and over-priced airline food: Salmon ‘n Bannock, located in the international departures zone of YVR.
It was a welcome taste of home before I boarded a long flight. The bannock was fresh and warm. The salmon was cooked to perfection. Definitely five Yukonomist stars.
I felt sorry for the poor saps lined up for a cheap chicken bomb at the nearby Dirty Bird franchise. Who wants to wake up with indigestion somewhere over Guam?
The surprising thing about the experience is how amazed I was to find an Indigenous restaurant in YVR. The city has a vibrant global restaurant scene. Vancouver has so many Afghan restaurants, for example, that Yelp has a Top 10 list for them.
But Salmon ‘n Bannock says it is Vancouver’s only Indigenous-owned-and-operated restaurant. The flagship location is on Broadway, now joined by the airport branch.
Some people say global capitalism is not perfect, and I think this may be an example. The market has clearly failed to identify Indigenous restaurants as an opportunity.
Entrepreneurs in North America generate a wild and improbable range of new restaurant ideas. Consider Chick’nCone, which serves chunks of fried chicken in waffle cones. Bread Zeppelin invented a blimp-shaped lunch with “Hollowed out fresh-baked artisan baguette filled with the customer’s choice of chopped salad.” Or perhaps you’d prefer dining at a Cereal Killerz franchise, where you can create your own custom mix of Froot Loops, Cap’n Crunch and other cereals with a variety of dairy-related accompaniments?
Compared to many concepts being pitched at quick service restaurant conferences, Salmon ‘n Bannock clearly has something going for it. With the growing interest in Indigenous culture and foodies looking for healthy and authentic choices, I think the entrepreneur behind Salmon ‘n Bannock is onto a new trend.
The restaurant’s founder is Inez Cook, a citizen of the Nuxalk Nation in Bella Coola, on the coast about half way between Vancouver and Juneau. She knows airports from her days as a flight attendant, and employs workers from a half dozen First Nations. She is also the author of a children’s book called The Sixties Scoop, which you can buy at the restaurant.
I had the classic Salmon and Bannock Plate ($21.99), featuring a six ounce sockeye filet with lemon aioli, greens and bannock. I also had a Spirit Bear coffee and was successfully upsold at the register, taking a Pemmican Strip ($8.50) for later.
Other choices include the Game Salami Sandwich ($16.99), the Vegetarian Chili Bannock Taco ($21.99) and the BBQ Salmon Salad ($16.99).
Another Vancouver entrepreneur is skiing the same line. Chef Paul Natrall, a citizen of the Squamish Nation, runs the Mr. Bannock food truck. Judging by his 10,000 Instagram followers, Mr. Bannock has a lot of fans. The truck offers a range of Indigenous fusion street food, from Venison Bannock Burger ($18) to Classic Indian Taco ($14). He also runs a slick modern social media marketing operation across Twitter, Instagram and the web including Bannock Squad apparel and coffee from Indigenous roaster Spirit Bear.
Judging by online reviews, both chefs have lots of happy customers.
The restaurant business is brutally competitive. Sockeye salmon fillets cost more than competitors pay for frozen chicken pucks from a Chicago factory. Labour shortages and rent stress many restaurateurs to the limit.
Nonetheless, both Salmon ‘n Bannock and Mr. Bannock seem to have carved out niches where foodies are willing to pay for their creative, quality cuisine.
Some Yukon entrepreneurs have already spotted the opportunity. You can buy Grandma Treesaw’s Bannock Mix at quality retailers from Destruction Bay to Whitehorse. The Bannock Slap food truck, recently on Main Street between Front Street and Second Avenue, offers bannock that is crispy on the outside and deliciously fluffy on the inside (also five Yukonomist stars).
With Klondike Rib and Salmon closed and no longer offering its famous variety of local fish and game meals, the market for local Indigenous food offerings probably has space for even more Yukon First Nation chefs.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist, author of the Aurore of the Yukon youth adventure novels and co-host of the Klondike Gold Rush History podcast. He won the 2022 Canadian Community Newspaper Award for Outstanding Columnist.