A beloved Italian bistro in Bragg Creek has been named one of the top 100 ‘most romantic’ restaurants in Canada by Open Table, a U.S.-based online restaurant-reservation and review service.
The Italian Farmhouse Restaurant and Bar was founded approximately 15 years ago after a change of name and ownership gave the rustic restaurant (formerly operating under two different monikers) a new lease on life.
The establishment’s most recent owners took control of the restaurant in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was excellent timing to give the restaurant some new direction, according to Tae Gordon, assistant general manager of Italian Farmhouse.
“This is the third ownership and so with each switch, this is a Bragg Creek spot to eat, and the locals love it,” he said, adding customer service has remained consistent with each change of ownership.
“We’ve had some customers stay with us the whole time, so our menu always stays the same throughout our ownership and if we ever turn over chefs, the old chef trains the new chef.”
Prior to its tenure as a food establishment, the Farmhouse was an early 20th century residence, said Gordon. The historical site has been a mainstay in the hamlet community for many years.
“If you look at [the restaurant] it looks like a house because it was a house in the early 1900s,” he explained. “It was a beautiful little house in the middle of the woods before the rest of the parking lot popped up across the street.”
The building was later converted into an antique store, with many relics remaining in the restaurant to this day having been repurposed as elements of the restaurant’s decor.
“You’ll still see lots of antiques around the restaurant that gives us a little bit of a rustic vibe,” Gordon shared. “But everything was just left behind by the previous owners.”
And it’s the “rustic vibe” that helps to curate a romantic atmosphere for those looking to wine and dine at the Italian Farmhouse, he said.
“I think our atmosphere here is a huge pull for new and recurring customers,” claimed Gordon. “They come in; they feel welcome.”
Though a dinner at the Italian Farmhouse can come with a hefty price tag, Gordon said the food and experience are worth every penny. He added the environment is also welcoming to a wide range of customers, including those who may have just completed a hike or snow-shoe in Bragg Creek Provincial Park to those celebrating an engagement.
“We’re curating to a huge demographic, but also making everyone feel welcome,” he said.
Fittingly, the announcement the restaurant had been named one of the top 100 ‘most romantic’ restaurants in Canada came just prior to Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14.
“I think we filled up Valentine’s Day... we were 100 per cent booked around 21 days out,” Gordon said. “So obviously [the announcement] had a huge impact, but honestly, our same customer base are the people that keep us open and keep us pushing to be better.”
He said the regular customers from Bragg Creek, Calgary, and the surrounding area have helped to keep the restaurant afloat during the pandemic and beyond, but new customers are always appreciated.
“I feel like that award is kind of paying dividends to such hard work that goes into this place by every staff member,” he said. “We’re not complacent and we want to keep striving to be better. If you loved us last time, we hope next time it’s going to be better.
“But we just love our current customer base, so anything that brings in more people, we love it [too].”
Though the restaurant does minimal marketing on social media, Gordon said word of mouth is the number-one form of promotion for the restaurant – which suits Italian Farmhouse just fine.
“If you get a pop-up on Instagram and it says come try it out, you might or you might not, but if your really good friend comes out and they had an amazing experience and they tell you about that, you’re gonna be pretty inclined to come in and check it out yourself,” he said.
“So that’s kind of the best way for us to get more exposure, but also a good recommendation.”
He said the recognition from Open Table is affirmation of the staff's hard work.
“It definitely put a smile on everyone’s face... the kitchen, it’s excellent to see them rewarded,” he said. “The food really pulls people in and keeps them coming back, so to have them rewarded makes everyone a little bit happier.
“Everyone works a little bit harder. It’s very close-knit staff here, so it really just pulls us all together.”