Exchanging Words with La Carnita

Karen Kornelsen Blog

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Exchanging Words is an ongoing series of conversations with the people behind the places in the Exchange District. If you would like to be featured, please email nicholas@exchangedistrict.org with “Exchanging Words” in the subject line.

Dining in the Exchange District is like taking a journey across the globe. From South America to Japan, from Italy to Belgium, your taste buds have the opportunity to experience the many flavours inspired by unique places from around the world, with cuisine made right here in Winnipeg by local award-winning chefs. Now, the tastes of Mexico are available with La Carnita breaking into the District’s food scene with a focus on art, food and music.

La Carnita, located at the old Fox and Fiddle space on 456 Main Street, may be new to Winnipeg, but it’s no stranger to Toronto where there are already four popular locations. One of La Carnita’s owners, Andrew Richmond, started the business almost six years ago.

“We’re about three things: art, food and music, “ Richmond explains. “When we started in Toronto out of our design studio, it was borne out of a love of cooking food and working with artists. We did one of the first ever pop-ups in Toronto where we opened for a lunchtime service and to be honest, we opened illegally. We were cooking and serving food out of an uncommercial kitchen, basically the kitchen in our design studio. We commissioned a local artist and sold the piece for about five or six bucks, then gave away the food!”

The initial goal was to get the food out and see how people reacted. With a lot of Mexican cuisine coming out of Toronto at that time, the La Carnita team thought their pop-up was a neat way to concept test. For the next year, they continued doing pop-ups about every two weeks at various locations around Toronto, including backstage for The National (the band) at the Air Canada Centre, a wine bar, and collaborations with numerous chefs from around Toronto and Niagara.

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La Carnita finally settled into its first bricks and mortar location in Toronto and from there they opened up three more locations. Each location has been designed to suit its neighbourhood so no two La Carnitas look the same. Each location also has its own chef du cuisine with different specials. For example, when the new Exchange District location opened up in early August, they did chicken hearts with honey dill, since honey dill sauce is unique to Manitoba.

Starting with their first location, they also flipped their model and started selling food and giving away art. At its Exchange location, La Carnita is currently featuring two Winnipeg artists and one Montreal artist.

“Before it was illegal…we were selling art and giving away food and now we sell the food and give away the art,” says Richmond with a laugh. “We pay the artists, they do a piece for us, and we do a limited run of 100 or less. If someone gets their bill, they can ask for the art and get a limited edition piece. It’s pretty cool.”

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The Exchange District location opened in early August and they’ve been incredibly busy over lunch and dinner. They weren’t even planning on expanding to Winnipeg but a connection came to them with a real estate opportunity and Richmond and his partners jumped on it.

“It was a real challenge because we’ve never worked in a space like that,” says Richmond. “Our esthetic doesn’t necessarily lend itself to an old bank so the renovation was a real challenge but I think we did quite well.”

The new location is stunning and La Carnita is already settling right into the Exchange District with one collaboration with fellow Exchange restaurant, King + Bannatyne, already under their belts. The two restaurants came together through a mutual connection and right away hit if off. The collab took place on August 11 at King & Bannatyne.

“Since collaborating is something we’ve done since the beginning, it naturally made sense to go back to our roots in Winnipeg by collaborating with local artists and working with local talent,” says Richmond. “My chef John and King & Bann’s chef Tyrone worked together on a brisket taco using their meat and our shell and toppings. Then we did two custom sandwiches and grilled Mexican street corn. It was really fun. We had a great time getting creative with them. We also met a bunch of local people all afternoon and ended up inviting them all to our opening. It was just such a great time.”

Another collab is coming up this weekend. On September 10 from 2pm to 10pm, Bastid’s BBQ is coming to the parking lot next to La Carnita. Globally renowned DJ, Skratch Bastid, will be taking the stage along with a stellar line-up including DJ Nu-Mark, 3peat, DJ Hunnicutt, Mama Cutsworth, Zack Daniels, Boogey The Beat, Mav-One, Jamil the DJ and Vinyl Salon. La Carnita will be doing the food and beverage for the event, then after 10pm the party will move into their restaurant.

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“We are so excited to be in the Exchange,” says Richmond. “I love the area mainly because of the architecture, the buildings, the signage…it’s an inspiring place in terms of the visuals that are all around. The area seems really up-and-coming with lots of businesses popping up and it seems to really have hit its stride in terms of all the things going on.”

Check out La Carnita today at 456 Main Street or on the web at www.lacarnita.com. And contrary to what Google says, they are open for lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday and open on Saturday and Sunday from 5pm until late.