Inside The Highly Anticipated Restoration Of “Save On Meats”

April 12, 2011.

After much cajoling over many months, Mark Brand finally gave me a tour of the much anticipated Save On Meats renovation/restoration yesterday. It was well worth the wait.

Way back in May of last year, Scout broke the news that the space – for over 50 years the pride and joy of proprietor Al DesLauriers – had been picked up by restaurateur Mark Brand (see also Boneta, The Diamond, Sea Monstr Sushi, Catalog Gallery and Sharks + Hammers). Not only did Mark get the digs – lock, stock and sausage maker – he was able to sign a 20 year lease on the whole building. That’s a basement and four floors, not to mention a pretty cool roof (which we’ll get to later).

When Brand took possession that July, word came that the name would not be changed and that the landmark neon sign depicting happy pigs and dollar signs in hot pink/red would be remaining as well. Beyond that, very little has been leaked about the project except a bit of rumour here and conjecture there. The veracity of all I could gather from snippets, hints and dozens of conversations with him and others over the intervening months was proven on the tour. Yes, there will be fish in addition to meat. Yes, there is a vintage jukebox. Yes, there is a foosball table (in the commissary). Yes, pretty much everything is being custom made, and so on. And yes, it’s all pretty damn stunning.

The main floor is split into two businesses. On the left is the deli, and on the right is the restaurant. Splitting them at the totally redone frontage will be an open window for take-away sandwiches and soups, the cheapest among the former being in the $1.50 range (“for a simple breakfast sandwich”). For a buck or so more, you can probably score a ham and cheese or a hot bowl of corned beef chowder. “Ideally, a family of four can get fed for as little as $10″, says Brand.

But let’s start in the basement, which will for 24 months be the incubating heart and soul of SOLEFood, the enterprising non-profit started by United We Can. Through their farm in the parking lot of the Astoria Hotel (Hawks at Hastings), the organisation trains/employs residents of the Downtown East Side.

The food grown there is “sold to restaurants, at Farmers Markets and when possible, supplied to community organizations with similar aims of improving neighbourhood food security”. The farm is just two blocks from my house (my family has watched it grow). It’s especially great to see them integrating deeper into the restaurant trade, and I hope others continue to answer their call (hat tip, Au Petit Chavignol).

Now, back to the main floor and a disclaimer. Brand kindly asked that I take no “long shots” that would tell of the entirety of any particular floor. It was a wish that I respected, absolutely, so forgive me if your restaurant porn needs aren’t being fully met (seek help). To paraphrase one of Sir Isaac Newton’s biographers, the riddle will be revealed to the initiate, so let’s get initiating…

Entering the door on the left at 43 West Hastings will take shoppers into a huge delicatessen. “Huge” is a big word, but those who remember the original Save On Meats remember it as anything but little (dig the dumbwaiter below).

To the right and in from the take out window, a long vessel of glass display cases protrudes from lily-white shelves that reach up supportive, copper-topped pillars. To the left will be a miniature commissary kitchen making pasta, a grain grinder (hell yes!) and a benched waiting area for those who’ve duly taken a number for their order a la old school.

Most of the walls are ancient brick (check the graffiti tag thrown up above, circa 1899), and the one that isn’t will be splashed with some cool pieces of early 60’s graphic food art by Dan Climan (has a vision, rocks a style). The dozen and more I laid eyes on really respected the history of the building and the Save On Meats brand without dating or copying it outright. It’s a cool look.

On the right side of the building is the restaurant proper, which tables some 40 seats…

The 7 booths are saddled in pillowcase-patterned brown leather. The metal sided tops are the same green as the lunch counter stools opposite. Accessible to every guest is a plug-in for laptops and such, right next to the salt and pepper shakers would go (please, no toasters). Expect free wireless.

There are 12 of these gorgeous things facing a very long – Pourhouse long – bar/lunch counter lined with wall paneling from DesLauriers’ day.

The top sees the same panels, only lying flat and lovingly sanded.

The main floor kitchen, service station and office are well kitted out, too. I dug the finely executed notch cut into an abutting wall to allow the staff to see what’s up on the floor when they’re not on it…

There’s some really good finds sprinkled throughout, like this beast…

and…

an old candy machine that will sell merchandise from Sharks + Hammers and such (pins and the like)…

and a pretty kickass jukebox that will be reprogrammed with curated mixes…

The second floor and third floors are pure commissary. There’s the ancient, original butcher’s “hanging room”…

Prep rooms galore…

Storage and stock rooms…

Massive walk in freezers…

working sausage machines…

and gigantic scales…

The series of rooms up here will be the prepping areas for all of Brand’s businesses, from braising and butchery to repairs and so forth. There’s a tremendous amount of space – over 20,000 sq.ft – and all of it is earmarked for something. From staff rooms, offices, bakery and retail stuff, everything has its place. On to the fourth floor…

The last level currently functions all multi-purpose like, so think artist’s studio, change rooms and such…

…but all of that will be commandeered soon, as will the roof..

…which – if all goes according to plan, will see a fully stocked garden and a four hive apiary (yay for bees!).

All of this is coming our way in June, and I’m as stoked for it as you are. I’m a sentimental old fool of a fan of the original Save On Meats, and this new incarnation is coming together as one hell of an homage.

ALL ANTICIPATED RESTAURANTS

  • http://www.vinevie.wordpress.com Natasha

    Looks so cool, can’t wait to go check it out!!!!!!

  • r.

    As much as I’m looking forward to this, it really kind of makes me miss sitting at the coffee shop counter talking to the DTES locals over a burger. $1.50 sandwiches are cheap, but I doubt many of the characters will be sitting in the restoration talking to themselves as they nurse a cup of coffee. Change is inevitable, and this is about as good as it gets for this property and neighbourhood. Nicely done.

  • Heather

    Gentrification done right. Hopefully, they stick to their mandate of affordable food for area residents and the incubator is a success. More businesses should strive to welcome ‘old’ and ‘new’ Hastings residents alike. Great write-up.

  • lucylam

    What a brave move, this is not the kindest neighbourhood. Love the look, can’t wait to see more.

  • Patrick

    I have to wonder how one pays for staff and food costs selling sandwiches for $1.50. When it comes to food, it’s usually a case of “you get what you pay for”. I do like seeing the Save On building and sign preserved. The unfortunate thing is that the restaurant will make it harder for the authentic diners in the area to survive (like the Ovaltine) because that’s who it will hurt. Thumbs up for free wireless and laptop plugs, and for being “neighbourhood conscious”. I live close and it’s great to see things happening in this block (Acme, Bitter, etc.). Is Vancouver hitting the saturation point for retro diners?

  • http://www.tacofino.com Ryan

    This is the most exciting thing that I can remember happening in the Vancouver food scene… ever. Go Mr. Brand!

  • http://seanorr.tumblr.com/ Sean Orr

    Not exactly sure how this will affect the Ovaltine, it’s not like they share clientele. If anything it will make people seek out “authentic diners in the area”.

  • http://rommy.gha.ly rommy

    Wow. This is insane. I’m curious to see how it will all come together. Can’t wait.

  • Patrick

    I think it will affect the Ovaltine, Sean. Mark says he’s aiming to create a place that the “disadvantaged” (his words, in the CBC interview) people that live in the area and who don’t have a “place to call home”. He thinks they don’t go to the Diamond and Boneta because they’re intimidating (?). I think that they don’t go to his other restaurants because they’re not welcome there and can’t afford it. If he’s selling $1.50 sandwiches to the low-income residents of the area, that is exactly the clientele that older diners like the Ovaltine cater to.

  • http://SaveOnMeats Lurlei Lincke

    How exciting! If a restauranteur like Mark Brand is going to stand behind his meats and other food offerings…and promise them at good prices, I, who live in Coal Harbour, will gladly abandon our local overpriced establishments and enjoy the Save On experience, which, judging from these few peeks, looks amazing! Kudos!

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  • daria_quinn

    Not excited. At all. I am so tired of places cropping up serving mediocre food but being inundated with people because of hype. Please open a place with decent food! Atmosphere is important, but it needs good food, too.

  • Scout Magazine

    It would be a sight fairer to see it open before judging, no? It wouldn’t hurt to get excited at the prospect of it being possibly good, that is unless you are of a serially disappointed ilk. If you like food, though, that’s what you do. You try it out. Hype is something you volunteer for. Go ahead with your low expectations. It may make the surprise of enjoying it all the better.

  • Crystal Thomas

    Wow, this actually made me what to write something! I am so thrilled to read what Mark is up to with this new spot. The place will be great for the wallet, the eyes and the soul! Makes me so happy!
    Congrats to a visionary on the East side!

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