It had been a long while since Jason Kittler had visited one of his favourite West Vancouver spots growing up.
He was walking along Ambleside Beach and was surprised to realize that the concession stand he used to buy hot dogs from as a kid had hardly changed a bit.
It was 2018, and he had just returned home to the North Shore with his family after a long stint of living in Australia and working in the restaurant and café scene. He’d been gone 17 years to be exact but had visited Vancouver every few years to see family.
What was once a spontaneous trip in his early 20s, sparked by his school mate Jason Hofman, who was living in Melbourne at the time and encouraged him to visit, had turned into close to two decades of experiences and falling in love with the laid-back beach culture Down Under offers.
Hofman returned home to Canada after a few years in Australia, where he had helped his sister and brother-in-law open a couple of pubs, but Kittler stuck around and eventually went on to open two cafes, including one on Manly beachfront in Sydney, called Havana.
A golden opportunity
Now that Kittler was home, he was on the look out for a new hospitality venture. So, when he spotted the now dull concession stand from his youth, he saw a golden opportunity to revamp one of West Vancouver’s most nostalgic waterfront destinations with Aussie style.
“This being such an iconic spot, it sort of reminded me of surf clubs that don't get used in Australia, but when they do they're amazing,” he said.
It was a lightbulb moment. From there, Kittler reconnected with his Sentinel Secondary buddy, Hofman, and pitched the idea of “bringing an Aussie concept to the beachfront spot in Ambleside."
“The old concession stand there was still the same as 40 years ago,” said Hofman. “Nothing had changed. People were always saying, ‘Oh, we need something better, we need something new here.’
“So, when Jason said: ‘Why don't we try and see what we can do down here?’ I said: ‘Well, why not?’
“And, it worked out.”
From an old concession stand to a vibrant cafe
The District of West Vancouver owns the concession building, but the duo took over the lease, after gaining support for their idea. Their vision became a reality in the summer of 2019, when the old brick snack bar was reborn as The Boat Shed.
They renovated the place themselves, giving the building new life with a fresh lick of paint, wood trimmings, a splash of aqua blue tiles, a patio area, and some Australian design influences, including lobster (crayfish) trap lights, to give it a real chilled, beach vibe.
“A lot of this design and thought was based on my experiences in Australia, really,” said Kittler.
“The lobster trap lights are, for sure. I guess it was modelled after my experience in cafes in Manly.”
They also jazzed up the menu with fresh options including tuna poké bowls, more salads and “real good, strong coffee” – they even started naming the coffee menu the Aussie way (long black instead of Americano, for example). While the menu now has a lot of healthier options than a traditional concession stand, it still includes the good ol’ burger and fries, and fish and chips as options.
Kittler said everything was going well and the cafe, with the perfect sunset views, was growing in popularity and then, of course, the pandemic struck.
He said they closed initially but then reopened soon after, when people began returning to the beach for a moment outdoors during lockdown and started stopping by to grab a coffee or snack to take away.
Creating new options for safe dining experiences during pandemic
As the pandemic continued, they decided to get more creative with their offerings.
They opened a marquee style patio area, or "outdoor living room," with fire pits for extra seating space and in December they added four garden greenhouses to the site, launching the popular Dine Under the Stars experience. The greenhouses are for bookings only and are often themed to suit the time of year. Surrounded by twinkling lights, they make for quite the romantic dinner.
The greenhouses were inspired by a mix of working with Dinner with a View for a previous winter event, which offered dinner in a clear dome on the beachfront, and from looking at how restaurants around the world were innovating during the pandemic.
Hofman said Dine Under the Stars was about offering people something to do that is “fun and different” but also safe.
Since taking over, and creating a more vibrant space, they said the community response had been resoundingly positive.
“The common theme is, ‘We have been waiting for something like this for a long time,'” said Hofman.
Now, both 45 years old, they said it had been quite the journey to get to where they are today.
“We’re two local guys who lived two blocks up the street and used to come down here all the time as kids,” said Hofman.
“We moved away and came back to take over. My mom is ecstatic, she says it's come full circle.”
The longtime friends say The Boat Shed is truly, “run by locals, for the locals.”
The beachfront cafe at, 1200 Argyle Ave., is first come, first serve, unless you want the garden greenhouse experience which is booked on Open Table.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.