WFP Column: Duets – Streets and Eats

Duets: Streets and eats – Broadway’s urban design and expanding cuisine scene create reasons to gather

Everyone designs. From inspired entrepreneurs full to the brim with ideas for our city to the many pop-up shops that have emerged in our downtown. From the local coffee shop on the corner to the delicate, delicious artisan pastries that we can’t help but devour, design is everywhere. Duets is an exclusive Winnipeg Free Press monthly series that pairs design experts with local champions and innovators to brainstorm new opportunities for civic building. Duets is written by HTFC Planning & Design’s Jason Syvixay, with imagery and photography provided by Kal Barteski and David Moder Photography.

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Amanda Kinden, local shop owner of Oh Doughnuts, sat down with HTFC Planning & Design’s Glen Manning and Rachelle Kirouac to whip up a new batch of ideas for Winnipeg’s downtown – from what Broadway could look like in the next five years to how food and urban design can support social gathering.

What they couldn’t agree on, however, was the flavour for a Winnipeg-inspired doughnut. With tastes inspired by Winnipeg’s climate and native flora, the trio dreamed up flavours ranging from Manitoba-grown rhubarb pie to blueberry-stuffed polar bear claws smothered with a white-chocolate glaze.

Kinden, an Environmental Studies graduate, likens her life to a Choose Your Own Adventure book, with her personal motto being: “Just go with it.”

With a passion for cycling and alternative transportation modes, Amanda found herself managing the widely successful Commuter Challenge at Green Action Centre. As a way to acknowledge the contributions of the many volunteers and community members, she baked all sorts of flavoured treats. With encouragement from satisfied friends and family, Amanda turned her pastime into what is now a Winnipeg doughnut institution.

Manning, a landscape architect, is no stranger to doughnuts or the Green Action Centre. He began his career at HTFC in 1981, then accepted an offer to work in Africa, where his first child was born. With a growing family, Manning and his wife, also a trained landscape architect, made the decision to move back to Winnipeg, where he was welcomed back to the firm that started his seminal career.

Over time, Manning became one of five principals responsible for a growing team of younger planning and landscape architecture staff, a task he finds incredibly inspiring: “There isn’t a better time to be a designer. Winnipeg is seeing the value of great spaces and places, and it’s great to work with younger staff who want to be part of this change.”

And as for his relationship with doughnuts? Just reference his tongue-in-cheek submission for the Portage and Main design competition in 2004 — a doughnut airship that rises and lowers with commodity prices, and periodically releases static electricity as a nod to prairie lightning storms.

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Kirouac joined HTFC two years ago with a Masters in Landscape Architecture. Her passion for travelling has taken her as far as Thailand, Australia, and Africa. Learning about exotic charms and quirks, she loves bringing these elements back and applying them to her own community.

She has enjoyed exploring design opportunities in Churchill, both through her education and work at HTFC, and has recently completed plans for community development for the town’s main streets. A born-and-raised Winnipegger and former historical guide in the Exchange District, Kirouac has developed a deep enthusiasm and affection for local design culture.

With a focus on creating a grab-and-go experience that’s also welcoming, attractive and convenient, Manning, Kirouac and Kinden’s talk highlighted how doughnuts, like design, engage community with form and function — both need to be attractive, work well, and be consumed conveniently by users. And if the perfect ingredients blend together, doughnuts and design can add to a more walkable community that inspires social gathering and conversation.

What are the biggest challenges facing young entrepreneurs today?

Kinden: It’s a challenge and opportunity to be readily accessible for people. There are so many ways to get in touch with people, especially through social media. This increase in communication also has the opportunity to disappoint. Everyone has different expectations.

The red tape is also an obvious challenge but it’s not unique to young entrepreneurs at all. Part of the problem is that the city and province often don’t share the same processes, permits and standards. This makes it incredibly confusing for entrepreneurs to know exactly what they need to do before opening up.

Manning: There are certainly some inconsistencies with standards and it’s a challenge. There isn’t really a way around that — it’s systemic, it’s a byproduct with any bureaucracy. There’s more work being done to address these issues, through Red Tape Commissions at the municipal and provincial level and there will always be room for improvement.

Aside from that, timing is a major challenge for our clients. It often takes a long time to get things through. When a client’s money is on the line, it means a great deal — so if this could be sped up, that would be very important to a business’ success.

Kirouac: Streamlining the process and keeping language clear and accessible. Alleviate contradicting protocols. A central hub that identifies some of the common challenges that entrepreneurs may face, accompanied by resources or mechanisms that they can employ to address them, would likely provide much needed and appreciated support for budding business owners.

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Why did you open up on Broadway?

Kinden: Broadway doesn’t have connections to the underground walkway system or skywalk, so people are forced to walk to Broadway. This is a good thing in my opinion. It forces people to walk. It creates a walkable downtown.

I looked at the periphery of downtown initially, but it wasn’t going to work for us as we rely on the office crowd. A lot of businesses come to us, grab a box of doughnuts, and then walk to their office.

Downtown revitalization is happening, but it’s slow. You can’t wait for the people; you’ve got to create the activity. We’re proud to be part of it.

Manning: Broadway is a unique street in our downtown. It’s quite generous, and all of the spaces feel large and grand. It’s nice to see the food trucks in the summer — these are initiatives that happen organically and wonderfully. This activity then blossoms into other great things for downtown. You start to see other pop-ups and start-ups taking advantage of the traffic generated by the food trucks. It’s generative.

In the future, I see Broadway improving even more, with public art, lighting, connections to Union Station, and increased recreational activities. On one side of Broadway, we have Upper Fort Garry Park and on the other end, the Manitoba Legislative grounds — Broadway businesses are well positioned to take advantage of this.

Kirouac: You nailed it by saying there is a lot of foot traffic. And you have this joint effort with nearby local businesses and storefronts all working in tandem towards creating a vibrant attraction — there’s The Fyxx (espresso bar), the food trucks, Cool Garden art installations.

For some, the downtown challenge often is what comes first — the chicken or the egg? Many shops operate during standard work hours, catering to an office lunch crowd. If business hours were extended, would this entice further activity in our downtown into the evenings? Or do we require further foot traffic into the evenings before owners can be enticed to cater to this later crowd?

How can retailers and businesses engage the public realm?

Kinden: There are a lot of ways. Musicians play in the summer on the boulevards. Festivals such as ManyFest activate our streets and we need more things like this. It would be lovely to see, like in other large cities, Broadway closed off a bit more for pedestrians. People on the street, not just cars!

Manning: The event that comes back in my mind is the old Bears on Broadway — it was easily one of the most successful and accessible public art events. My parents came down to watch Bears on Broadway, I feel like they hadn’t been downtown for three years. If there were a winter version of this, it would be amazing for Broadway!

Kirouac: As Amanda mentioned, our arts and culture scene is Winnipeg’s strength, and is a clear example of how the public is engaged. We embrace almost every activity offered — from Festival du Voyageur to The Forks river trail to live music and festivals. The list of things to do is endless! I respect Winnipeg for that, for taking advantage of our amenities, musicians and culture.

Design involves thinking around shapes and geometry in the same manner that Oh Doughnuts design its doughnuts. How important is design at Oh Doughnuts?

Kinden: It’s important. You want to present something that people want to eat. People purchase with their eyes. You also want to design it so that you’re able to eat it, with a nice balance of flavours and ensure they come across nicely.

A good example is our Ferrero Rocher doughnut — we tested the cream filling multiple times so that it would taste just like Nutella. Then we thought about what to put on top of it. Then we created a vanilla wafer bark for the inside. It was the most intense doughnuts we’ve ever created, because it took a lot of attempts, and had us going back to the drawing board.

Manning: One of the things I think about is not just about the doughnuts. It’s the whole experience. It’s about how you enter the space. How does the counter address people? Does it make you feel welcome? Do you feel like all of the options are presented? Are you sneaking a peek at things or are they all revealed at once? To me, Oh Doughnuts feels like a doughnut shop. You come in, and you see all of the donuts — there’s plenty of it.

Kinden: When I imagined our shop, I wanted to make the doughnuts the main star. We have drip coffee, but it’s the doughnuts that you come here for.

Kirouac: A big messy tray of doughnuts makes them look more indulgent. It’s nice that your shop keeps the trays right in the front. You get to gauge which ones are the top sellers.

Donuts can often be more style than substance. Can the same thing be said for design — how can you strike the balance between “too much” or “too little” icing?

Kinden: As a baker, you think about how thick or thin the icing or glaze could be. You don’t want too much as it might overpower the dough with the glaze and vice versa.

Manning: It depends on how you define icing. I agree with you Amanda that the icing can sometimes just be a prop, but sometimes it’s absolutely integral to how the doughnut performs. It kind of reminds me of Roman architect Vitruvius’ notion that good architecture is a combination of commodity, firmness and delight. Not having icing can mean you are shortchanging delight. So you’ve got to find the balance.

Kirouac: I think good design occurs when consideration is given to users, services, and ultimately to what the design of the space should accomplish. There’s a multitude of ways to think about things spatially. It’s a step past the design phase and the renderings and the plans — and really getting down into the nitty-gritty of what it would be like to be in the space. In terms of “icing,” you want to be true to the original goal of the design — what’s going to make this successful without clouding or overshadowing the original intention of the space?

People often need some kind of catalyst to strike up a conversation with someone they don’t know well. Sociologists call this a ‘social excuse’. Food is a powerful social excuse. Talk about the role of food as a social agent. What kind of catalysts for socializing do we offer through landscape architecture and planning?

Manning: One of the best things we can do as designers is to help people who don’t know each other to interact. We do a lot of work in the public realm, so being able to bring people together, make them feel comfortable in a space is important. It could be as simple as how you arrange a space. Instead of seating positioned in parallel to each other, you can situate them as L-shaped, and this may make it easier for people to start a conversation.

Kinden: Everybody knows that most of our gatherings are centred on food. In the simplest terms, we all got to eat. Food makes it easy to kill two birds with one stone — we’re going to eat, we’re going to have a social interaction. To be able to have a place to do that — to come and grab a coffee and doughnut, meet, and go our separate ways. It’s just who we are as human beings. It’s one of the most important things about being a person: gathering around food.

Beer Buddies

Visit Oh Doughnuts (326 Broadway) from March 18-22 to try a special doughnut, designed exclusively by HTFC Planning & Design’s Glen Manning and Rachelle Kirouac.

Beer Buddies is a flight of doughnut holes glazed with local craft beer and paired with wacky Winnipeg garnishes. Beer Buddies explores food as a social activity — an opportunity to share and connect with others (so share the pieces!) — and pays homage to Winnipeg’s diversity and entrepreneurial spirit, honouring the micro-breweries and specialty food shops that are changing the flavour landscape of the city.

To launch this inaugural doughnut, Peg Beer Co’ s The Guten Tart Berliner Weisse is the featured beer glaze.

Want to duet with us? Email HTFC Planning & Design at