Building a Downtown Eastside Foodie Empire

The iconic Save-on-Meats building on Hastings Street readies itself ?to anchor a local foodie empire.

Mark Brand, Gastown restaurateur
Gastown restaurateur Mark Brand oversees reno- vations of the soon-to-be-relaunched Save-on-Meats.

The iconic Save-on-Meats building on Hastings Street readies itself 
to anchor a local foodie empire.

A pair of pink neon flying pigs has soared over the first block of West Hastings Street since 1957, when Al DesLauriers bought Vancouver’s iconic Save-on-Meats building. It’s been a little over two years since DesLauriers retired, shutting down the meat counter and eventually shuttering the entire building. While area residents mourned the loss of their local meat shop, DesLauriers was simply biding his time, waiting for a worthy successor to carry on his vision of a community-focused business. 

And now the time has come. Gastown restaurateur Mark Brand has signed a 20-year lease on the entire four-storey building. After renovating for close to a year, the main floor will reopen this spring with a butcher shop, restaurant and take-out window that Brand envisions serving the residents of the Downtown Eastside. 

The second floor will become a commissary kitchen supplying not only the main floor but also the three nearby Gastown restaurants Brand is a partner in: The Diamond, Sea Monstr Sushi and Boneta. And perhaps the most innovative part of the operation will be one of the upper floors, which will house an “incubator” kitchen aimed at helping burgeoning entrepreneurs develop new food products and learn business skills. Another upper floor will serve as ­general office for all Brand’s businesses.

Brand secured $500,000 in startup and renovation funding with loans from a couple of credit unions and a federal-government small-business program. A City of Vancouver grant will fund the startup of the incubator kitchen. With rent going for a fraction of the city’s more established areas – he says he leased the entire building for about the cost of 750 square feet on Robson – Brand expects to fund the entire operation with revenue from the street-level eatery. “I did my numbers, and on the low scale of things, I can make this thing run for the first three years with nothing else generating income but the ground floor,” he says. 

All of Brand’s other businesses have been partnerships, but despite all the support he has received, this time he knows the buck stops with him. “It does fall on my shoulders if anything goes wrong,” he says, “but it’s not going to. It’s far too important.” 

A large part of the vision for the renewed Save-on-Meats is to serve the locals in the neighbourhood, something Brand says he had always hoped to do with his other Gastown establishments. He found that one of the biggest stumbling blocks in serving low-income people is the intimidation factor. He says that with those businesses he “didn’t serve the neighbourhood directly, but hired locally as much as possible.” Brand believes his latest business plan is inclusive enough to be embraced by all Vancouverites.

In a new twist on “vertical integration,” Brand envisions a day when produce is harvested from a rooftop garden, processed into a product developed in the incubator and sold at retail on the ground floor to local residents. “It’s got nothing to do with a bleeding heart,” he insists. “It’s about creating a space that includes all of the community.”