A canteen is a mess hall, a meeting place, a bustling stop to gather provisions. While on the sophisticated side of an old idea, the Canteen Market and Bistro hopes to preserve the approachability of a neighborhood spot.
The new gourmet food and beverage market, deli, bar and dine-in restaurant sits on the corner of Spruce and Fourth streets in downtown Winston-Salem. Claire Calvin, owner of the Porch Kitchen & Cantina and Alma Mexicana, and Eric Swaim, an owner of Hoots Beer Company, met as business neighbors in the West End Millworks complex. They’ve banded together to start Pindustries, a restaurant and venue development LLC. Canteen is the duo’s first project.
“The idea is we would develop multiple businesses and try out different models for Winston, a lot of them being multi-purpose,” Swaim says. “We felt it was something Winston needed. There’s a lot of traffic on Fourth Street and so much interest in the area that just needs a little more to carry that momentum.”
Grand opening weekend kicks off on Sept. 7 but the eatery is serving both lunch and dinner as of this week and is largely operational. Chef Chris Almand, best known for his time at West End Café, is at the bistro’s helm. The Canteen team partners with Whit Acres Farm, a family farm within city limits, for the produce and meat that will bedrock their vision for an urbane but relaxed experience that prioritizes quality over pomp.
“You can come in for dinner and get a really high-end, elevated kind of meal but you can also grab a burger at lunch,” Swaim says. “But that burger is going to be on a bun baked in house and the meat will be from a farm three miles away with some awesome cheese we’re excited about at the time.”
The menus range from beer-braised mussel starters and harissa roasted vegetables to rainbow trout and upscale twists on classic sandwiches and salads.
At every level, Canteen is highly curated experience.
Shopping baskets are metal, not plastic, and the tidy market area showcases several local products but also features foodstuffs from around the world.
“We wanted to try to offer things that aren’t offered in Winston, not necessarily expensive items,” Swaim says. “We didn’t think we were showing Winston something new; this isn’t, ‘We’re gonna to show Winston how it works.’ I was born and raised here…. Winston-Salem has always been a very industrial, urban city so we wanted to do something more representative of that. There’s no reason we can’t support a more urban-driven market like this.”
The supposedly cursed corner locale has served as a revolving door for a number of ventures over the years, including a Latin American restaurant, a club and Cat’s Corner, a breeze-through sandwich joint.
Swaim and Calvin chose to start fresh, retaining grand metal pillars but knocking down walls and carving out windows to Spruce Street, which allow natural light to spill into the market and bar area. Light-colored ash wood, geometric white tiling and crisp lines contribute to a minimalist aesthetic while details like brass-plated signs hint at the city’s industrial character.
Passersby can peek into the picture-windowed deli kitchen, a sharp right from the entrance. Offerings include grab-and-go meals and the meats and cheeses most would expect to see, but Calvin and Swaim’s vision extends beyond the standards. Deli visitors will find dinner kits, fully-prepared dinners and unique choices like marinated cuts of fish.
“We’re calling the deli ‘The Daily’ because the idea is it’ll constantly be changing,” Swaim says. “Anything from soba noodles to an interesting chicken salad to a marinated pork chop. Come in, stop at the counter, pick up a bottle of wine in the cellar and you’ve got dinner.”
For those looking to eat in, though, Canteen’s seating capacity will soon double with the addition of patio seating on Fourth Street’s deep sidewalk in contrast with the indoor bistro’s dimly-lit, intimate setting in the interior’s far corner. An elbow bar is also available indoors for customers eyeing a solo deli lunch or a coffee break with a scone and their laptop. Other daily-made baked goods like cookies, cakes and baguettes are scattered about the front end of the space.
So while the comparison might seem apt at first, Canteen is markedly different from Washington Perk just down the way.
“If you’ve been in our space and in their space you realize it’s nothing alike, and I want to live in a city where I have those choices,” Swaim says. “Now I know I can come… grab a sandwich and cat food from Perk and then come here and get the stuff we have.”
“Here” is 411 Fourth St., an address the owners like to play with.
“[Canteen is] an information hub, a cultural hub, so the 411 stand serves as much more than a host stand,” Swaim says. “It’ll have the symphony schedule and downtown events so you can easily get a cup of coffee and lunch and see what all is going on that week. We’re hoping this will bring more people to Fourth Street and will be representative of what’s to come for Winston-Salem.”