Brad Lazarenko’s Culina Family of Restaurants has been a staple in the Edmonton food scene for 15 years now. He’s had his hand in shaping several culinary concepts, from the now-closed Culina Mill Creek and BiBO Winebar to the popular Culina Café at the Muttart Conservatory. Lazarenko also ran eateries at city golf courses and the ACT Aquatic and Recreation Centre until 2018. Culina has had its hand in catering as well. Now, Lazarenko is taking his years of expertise and creating a new concept.
While Lazarenko is clearly passionate about the food industry, he was looking for a lifestyle change. “At one time, I had 45 employees, different locations, and kind of hit a point where it’s just like… when you’re managing that many people, you’re constantly putting out fires,” says Lazarenko. He was looking to simplify things. His sister, chef Cindy Lazarenko, made a suggestion— instead of dealing with everything that goes along with running a restaurant, why not just focus on the food?
“She said, you should just cook. You should just cook somewhere and not have to worry about front of house staff.”
Culina To Go was inspired by many of the quick take-out spots like Pret a Manger that Lazarenko saw on his travels to New York. For the individual consumer, the new spot in the Oliver Exchange building will offer a variety of take-out options that are ready to go. And, it also fills a niche for smaller scale catering. There will also be an online catering store. Consumers can stop by, pick up what they need for smaller dinner parties, and serve it to their guests stress-free. Lazarenko will also be resurrecting Culina Mill Creek’s popular TV dinners — packaged meals that offer a cheeky twist on the typical frozen convenience food.
As for the menu, Lazarenko is maintaining the culinary philosophy he’s had throughout his time in the industry. “I’m not opening with, this is the menu,” says Lazarenko. “It’s going to be seasonal; we’re using local ingredients. I think it’ll just be how inspired I am to try stuff out. I want to cook and cook differently all the time, like any chef would in a restaurant.” There will be a focus on plant-based cuisine, hearty Ukrainian meals and rotating specials, like Bannock Mondays.