Let’s call this a public service announcement. I’m here to encourage everyone to continue their patronage of our local independent restaurant, brewery, distillery, and café businesses beyond the manic holiday season that is approaching.
When the spectre of conspicuous consumption retreats until Valentine’s Day (nothing says you care like a grape-sized diamond), the front and back of house teams that were there for us when our offices descended on their spaces for ugly sweater revelry will feel the pinch of post December austerity. It takes a lot to run a successful food and beverage operation, that much is clear from the practiced smiles that remain pasted on the faces of service staff as they deliver the umpteenth bowl of roasted chestnut veloute. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that many of the venues we call our favourites put a lifetime’s worth of effort into their business before ever serving a single plate.
The stories from local operators abound. The new brewery that took two years to complete from the time the foundation rebar was placed to the time the doors opened. The new distillery caught in regulatory hell, for whom the goalposts kept moving (with attendant tens of thousands of unbudgeted dollars required) because municipal decision makers didn’t have a suitable precedent for their category of operation. The well established daytime restaurant that must close its doors because of some officious dispute about the nature of its business nearly five years on from opening.
Restaurateurs must climb the highest bureaucratic mountains until their knees buckle under the weight of their obligations, and then they must run a triathlon to get to the finish line, still a precarious place in the free market economy where fickle tastes and subjective social media opinions prevail.
The opening of the new building at 3280 Edgemont Boulevard has been a long time coming. Traffic cones, portable fencing, heavy machinery, exposed earth, roving security guards, and complex scaffolding have been fixtures of the village for what feels to me like forever.
The era of interminable construction in Edgemont was the source of much consternation for Chef Scott Kidd, whose highly respected, always reliable restaurant, The Canyon, shuttered earlier this year after a solid run as one of North Vancouver’s few fine-dining (ish) destinations. I don’t think Chef Kidd, who always tells it like it is, would mind me revisiting the topic of difficult conditions for small businesses on the North Shore, as I have already reported on his situation in these pages and he was glad to give me his impressions of the effects of construction and other external influences on his business, about a year and a half ago, some six months before The Canyon served its last meal.
Among Kidd’s comments was a particularly insightful one about how long it takes new businesses to get underway on the North Shore. In his view, Nicli Antica, which took the better part of a year to open once signage announcing its arrival was posted, was a classic example of the hurdles that independent businesses need to jump through to get up and running. A better competitive landscape, installed earlier, Kidd speculated, might have drawn more dining patrons to Edgemont Village, and ultimately to The Canyon, supporting an adage popular in the craft brewing world, namely, that all ships rise with the tide.
Well, Nicli Antica did eventually get underway and I have noted happily that it seems to be attracting significant volumes of patrons daily and nightly. In The Canyon’s old space is the casual ramen and fried chicken eatery, Red Tori. The fashionable, novel Bjorn Bar continues to do solid business as it approaches its fourth year of operation. And although Spud.ca’s bricks and mortar outlet, Be Fresh Market, did not find sustainable business conditions in Edgemont, a new craft yogurt operation, Krave Kulture, is opening soon in the same block.
Additionally, I received word recently that there is to be a new rustic Italian eatery opening later this month in the aforementioned 3280 space. It will be the second location of Kerrisdale favourite, Bufala, which is operated by Gooseneck Hospitality, responsible for the exceptional Gastown venue, Wildebeest, Fraserhood’s smash hit Bells & Whistles, as well as a handful of other rooms around town. I brought my family to the Kerrisdale Bufala in December of last year before checking out the Van Dusen Gardens holiday lights display and found the food to be expertly prepared and adeptly served, without pretension.
Bufala’s pizzas and by-the-glass wine program were especially good, leading me to believe that perhaps, at long last, the climate of healthy competition in Edgemont Village is reaching a sustainable level. In fact, competition may have reached a zenith as two high profile restaurants, both second locations of popular Vancouver progenitors, situated within two blocks of each other in a small geographic delineation, will now go head to head with menu fare that is, at least on the surface, very similar.
I caught up earlier this week with Gooseneck Hospitality co-founder James Iranzad to discuss the road to Bufala’s opening. It quickly became clear in speaking with Iranzad that he possesses a hard-won maturity, a realist perspective born of opening more than 10 restaurants in his career and learning the tough lesson that, as he put it, “people aren’t automatically going to love what you do just because you do it.”
The idea for the Edgemont Bufala emerged three years ago as Iranzad and his partners, used to opening restaurants with new concepts each time, challenged themselves to translate an existing, successful concept into a new space, with the necessary adjustments to remain creative and relevant to the neighbourhood. After exploring locations, Iranzad and company sensed in Edgemont Village an approachable, community-minded, anti big box vibe that was not unlike Kerrisdale. The wheels were set in motion and the Gooseneck team eventually found a realty opportunity with the Grosvenor Group’s Connaught development on Edgemont Boulevard.
“Back in the fall of 2017 Grosvenor told us very clearly- you are not taking possession [of the space] until 2019,” Iranzad recounts. “That was fine. We would not have been comfortable trying open sooner and we wanted to grow at a responsible rate.”
I can tell you from countless discussions with first time restaurateurs that this is not a common attitude. Many cannot wait to open their doors and have, in fact, even forecasted revenue from an on-time opening into their planning. It can be a recipe for disaster. Delays are to be expected, explains Iranzad, and it is important to keep egos out of the equation when opening a new business; no one owes you anything and so your concept needs to be rock solid, without compromise. Business owners need to take the time it takes to do the job right, to show integrity the whole way through.
By Iranzad’s account, the Bufala Edegmont concept meets Gooseneck’s standards, with the group taking their time to secure their preferred architects, designers, and general contractors to realize a new iteration of Bufala that both preserves the winning approach from the original while finding a unique North Shore voice.
I asked Iranzad if he knows why the second locations of so many successful Vancouver restaurants opening up here on the North Shore seem to be pursuing the rustic Italian theme. Indeed, Nicli Antica, Farina a Legna, and the soon to open Nook at the Shipyards, all share a similar culinary vernacular with Bufala. He shrugs the question off affably, chalking the phenomenon up to the universal appeal and generally democratic reputation of the casual Italian style of cuisine, and suggests that by securing space for their North Shore location back in 2017, Gooseneck likely started the wave in the first place. “But anyway, look, we’re friends with most of these guys. I’m looking forward to going out myself to have some delicious food at their restaurants.”
I think we should all join him in that undertaking. We now have on our doorstep a still burgeoning, but very promising, new wave of dining and libation options. It is my sincere hope that we support these businesses whenever we are able. At the very least, I know for certain that they have earned my curiosity by planting seeds that have taken years to sprout.