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

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