“The Helm” Takes Old “Unwine’d” Spot, Teams With Food Network

November 16, 2010.


If you haven’t already heard, the old “Unwine’d” spot at 1180 Howe St. has been picked up by a group of first timers (Angela Moore, Laura Francis, David Carlini, Cameron Wasnea) who have been busily turning it into a new restaurant concept called The Helm. Joining them in the endeavour is talented chef Tobey Nemeth, lately of Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy mini-empire, and – if only temporarily for TV purposes – David Adjey, star of the Food Network hit show, The Opener.

So what can we expect? I’ve eaten Nemeth’s food before in Toronto (awesome), but I know nothing of the owners or front of house crew. I’ve never heard the names before, but they’re on Facebook, advertising – in their own words – a Toronto/Montreal-style “full service, social supper club featuring local gastro-fare and beverage”. They’ve teamed up for some sort of function out of the gate with Vancity Buzz (a local website that appears to focus on hot models and Ultimate Fighting), and they’re charging a $10 cover for a “Mo Money, No Problems” charity night of beer pong and Captain Morgan rum. As to how Adjey will reconcile that sort of angle – which, to be honest, smacks more of Girls Gone Wild than Nemeth’s mandate of “local, luxurious meals celebrating the joy of the dining experience” – is beyond me, so at the very least the project should prove rather interesting to watch unfold.

I’m not sure what Adjey brings to the table in Vancouver aside from lot of name recognition, which is currency in and of itself (I suppose). He’s midwifing a reality show, not a functioning restaurant, and this town is an entirely different animal than Toronto or Montreal. If I recall correctly, the last time he came through BC for this program, the restaurant he was working with – in Campbell River – was stillborn. In his words, it “didn’t pan out”. That – on the surface – doesn’t instill pints of confidence.

Nemeth, who is one of only a handful of Toronto chefs taking the whole “local food” thing seriously, doesn’t strike me as someone who needs much in the way of guidance. At the end of the day, of course, it’s not Adjey’s place. He won’t be scrubbing toilets, reconciling cash or making The Big Decisions. Nevertheless, I hear that he’s an extremely driven guy, so don’t count his impact out. The PR heft he brings is undeniable. Some people will surely come as a consequence of curiosity, but after that…I don’t know. It’s not even open yet!

Of the overall concept, what I’ve heard/read so far, even officially, has been info-light. Moore, the operations manager, had this to say in the release: “For a city with world class cuisine, we felt like something was really missing from the scene. It’s like the rest of the world realizes that Vancouver is a foodie destination but locals themselves don’t think so. We’re going to change that attitude…” I have no clue what that means. So it falls to The Helm to make us realise that we’ve been living large in a gastronomic wonderland all this time? Funny stuff. Take of that what you will.

UPDATE I: I’d originally (read: wrongly) posted that this was going into the old Lickerish location on Davie (workable) when in actual fact it’s slated for the old Unwine’d spot (ouch). The latter, as you may well remember, saw very little in the way of traffic and died a horrible, slow death. One way “rush” streets with weak pedestrian coverage are generally brutal, but the meh food, drink and service at Unwine’d didn’t improve their chances of survival (it was also a stupid name). So looking at The Helm through the prism of its address doesn’t do it any favours. If they aren’t successful in turning it into a destination joint – and fast – I’d wager success to be elusive. It’s a big challenge, for certain, but not insurmountable. We naturally wish them lots of luck with it.

UPDATE II: From one of the owners…

Our food concept is a local, ingredient driven small plates menu. Food prepared with love, 100% from scratch. We proudly collaborate with local growers, sustainable fisheries and artisan producers to showcase the best of B.C. It’s an intent driven way of offering cuisine with plate sizes that also take the pressure off of the dining experience and adding a social experience that has yet to be offered in Vancouver.

Beyond just the food, our overall concept is inspired by the supper-club trend in New York, Montreal and Toronto (Globe, Ultra, Nyood) where farm-to-fork meets the city. The Helm offers carefully selected classic cocktails with new and exciting twists, cutting edge wine selections in a modern, yet warm atmosphere that fuses into a late-night scene that has a DJ, features live music and has a life of it’s own.

The four owners are all between the ages of 23 and 33. Starting with the youngest, Laura Francis comes from a rich family history of hospitality experience. She has been exposed to fine-dining since the age of 3 and brings a plethora of serving and bartending experience to the table as well. Laura will be handling all HR. Cameron Wasnea, 26, comes from a hospitality management background and has a full portfolio of film, TV and music production experience having worked at such companies like Network Music Group. He will head the entire bar and event coordinating department. Angela Moore, 28, has worked every front of house position since the age of 15. She has her Psychology degree from McGill University and brings forth restaurant management experience from award winning, top restaurants in Kelowna and Vancouver. She will be handling marketing and front of house operations management. David Carlini, 33, is from Windsor Ontario where he owns a body shop chain with his younger brother. Having a passion for the restaurant industry as well as the city of Vancouver, David joins the team as the finance manager.

The soft opening is set for December 1st, with the official opening pinned on December 3rd.


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