Vancouver restaurant Alimentaria Mexicana brings the old world online
The eatery’s e-commerce marketplace is connecting customers to products they often don’t get to experience.
It’s not easy to make a restaurant work during a pandemic. That’s an obvious statement, and the evidence can be found all over Vancouver. That includes the usually traffic-heavy Granville Island, where Edible Canada called it quits last year.
In its space came Alimentaria Mexicana, the latest offering from the team behind the Nuba restaurant chain, which also manages Yaletown’s lauded Chancho Tortilleria. By all accounts, the food at Alimentaria is top notch, but the minds behind it didn’t put all their eggs into the traditional restaurant model.
“Alimentaria is a loose term for provisions,” says Alimentaria partner and Nuba Restaurant Group director Darragh McFeely. “We’re a restaurant, a retail space and, eventually, we’ll be a demonstration space to educate people about Mexican cuisine and where the products come from.”
The retail space is both a physical operation and a state of the art online marketplace, thanks to Alimentaria’s partnership with Shopify. What separates it from any old e-commerce site, though, is the availability of products that you’d have a hard time finding anywhere else in the world.
“Everything in our store is not something you can just go to a website or pick up the phone and order,” says McFeely. “The clayware and textiles are from Indigenous communities in farms in rural Mexico. You have to have someone go down a road and meet these people and get to know them and place an order that way.”
To that end, the Mercado (marketplace) has a variety of authentic items, from hot sauce and corn to kitchen tools, pottery and vanilla beans. In the tourist haven that is Granville Island, Alimentaria hasn’t struggled to pull in sales.
“We do have Mexican customers who are happy they can finally get products they grew up with,” says store manager Kelsa Blakley. “But we also have good engagement from Canadian customers who are very fascinated to be introduced to these products and try them in the store and then order the same products when they get home.”
The planning for the online store started in August before it was launched last month and the team has taken care to make sure that there is more on sale than just physical items. “After the last two years, we’re finding that people are really hungry for experiences, not just products,” says McFeely. “The platform has helped us add a story and a traceability to our products, and it’s been very exciting to see how eager people are to take part.”