The idea behind First & Vine was simple: to create a warm, welcoming space in Airdrie for date nights. A romantic, timeless place where couples could enjoy a great meal – and wine – without driving to the big city.
So, when a big old house came up for purchase in downtown Airdrie, Jeff Lawrence, his wife Lisa Mundell-Lawrence and their business partner Paul Dabgotra knew they had the makings of a great restaurant.
“We wanted it to feel like you’re going to your friend’s house for dinner – someplace cozy and intimate and not too pretentious,” says Mundell-Lawrence.
“And we wanted to fill a gap,” Lawrence adds.
We wanted people to realize they don’t have to drive to Calgary for date night and pay for parking and whatever.
First & Vine opened in The Village in October 2016, only three months after the trio took possession of the space.
One of Airdrie’s oldest buildings, the two-storey house was built in 1905 as a manse for the church next door. It was a private residence for many years, as well as a shop and then a Latin-American restaurant.
At that stage, a commercial kitchen was installed, but beyond that much needed to be done to create the look Mundell-Lawrence had envisioned.
To start, a massive 16-foot bar in the main dining room was removed to make more space for tables, a handpainted collection in myriad colours. A feature wall behind the bar was created using the original 1905 pale-yellow shiplap exterior siding, and a bar was made from wood barn planks from the early 1900s.
A wine cellar was created out of the 100-year-old river rock foundation. And the patio was ripped out, expanded and replaced.
“The bones were there, but we had to change it quite a bit,” Lawrence says.
Mundell-Lawrence adds: “Everything was touched. Everything.”
But as the space began to come together, so did the kitchen. Chef Michael Frayne heard about the venture and called up, asking to take part. No stranger to some of Western Canada’s best restaurants, he’s worked at Rouge Restaurant, Notable and The Nash in Calgary as well as Mission Hill Estate Winery in the Okanagan Valley.
But Frayne lives in Airdrie, and loved the idea of working close to home. “I wanted to spend more time with my family, and taking five-six hours of commuting (out of the week) is a good way to do that,” he says.
And he saw the need for a place in Airdrie “where you could have some great glass pours and bottles, and awesome bites of food that you can’t otherwise find here.”
Dishes vary but the focus is on farm-to-table plates for sharing: bison carpaccio with a single-malt scotch aioli; Salt Spring Island mussels with farmer’s sausage; duck confit with an apple dressing; made-from-scratch gnocchi with whipped goat cheese; and butternut squash topped with a pumpkin seed vinaigrette.
“There’s a heavy influence on local Canadian products – that’s probably the best way to describe the menu,” notes Frayne.
“But with a twist.”
Craft beer and wine fans will also find plenty of options, including three seasonal beers on tap and roughly 20 wines, including a prosecco on tap.
Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant has room for 47 diners inside, and, when the weather is good, seating for an additional 51 outside on the two-tiered patio.
Currently the restaurant is not licensed for minors, but the group is already anticipating requests for weddings and parties because of the flexibility of the space. “Because it’s a house, it offers the ability to have private rooms,” notes Lawrence. “We can put 16 in one room, 10 in another.”
And of course, there’s plenty of room for couples looking for a romantic corner for date night.