I’ve been keenly watching Dalina from a distance for months now, curious as to what the Chinatown newcomer might have in store when it launches on December 3rd. I took a sneak peek inside at progress late last week and was surprised at just how big and slick it was. Located at 687 Main Street, it’s all of 3,000 sqft. That translates into lots of space for retail food shelving, not to mention a row of frozen and refrigerated items, a modest sized prep kitchen, a big service island complete with hot, ready things for dining in or taking out (pastas, soups, stews, polenta, salads, breads, etc.), a fully equipped espresso bar, and some 16 seats inside with possibly another 15-20 outside. They’re also hoping to have it licensed for beer and wine at some point down the road, so it’s fixing to attract in several ways.
Designed by Andrea Greenway with a gorgeous lighting installation of copper pots by Matthew McCormick, the modern Italian delicatessen and grocery store is coming to us from the Bosa group of companies, a homegrown business behemoth that could very well have built the building you’re reading this in. The rental arm of Bosa owns the 191 new units of rental housing above Dalina, so it’s an all-in-the-family affair – a real East Van Italian immigrant success story from main floor to top.
Will there be other Dalinas down the road? Most likely, as the Bosas are always on the up and up in condotopia, and why lease ground floor retail to unpredictable strangers when you can rent it to yourself? Seems like a wise plan for the future, and it’s not like there isn’t related and immediate precedent.
There’s a small, instinctive, embarrassing, irrepressible part of me, however, that is quick to wish Dalina would launch its first outlet somewhere where there wasn’t a David to its Goliath. Hear me out: Tosi’s might be on the way out across the street after serving many decades as the neighbourhood’s Italian food importer, but let’s not forget about diminutive Pazzo Chow just around the corner. The Italian deli at 620 Quebec St. is only a couple of years old, but it does pretty much exactly what Dalina is aiming to do. And it’s the little guy. Truly, the only fundamental difference between the two concepts is size (which is to say it’s the many myriad things that more square footage affords a food operation, especially choice). Advantage: Dalina. If this was any other concept I’d immediately put a more-the-merrier, free market spin on it, but I grew up in an Italian delicatessen (my mother co-founded Bagga Pasta on Vancouver Island) and I know I would have resented the living shit out of Dalina if it opened around the corner from my mom’s store. The owner, Maya Sciarretta, is a wonderful woman who is deeply passionate about the food she makes and sells. I mean, how could you not fall just a little in love with her after she starred in this short video to promote her Sugo Sauce brand…
Right? And beyond that particular awesomeness, it’s plainly evident whenever you go into Pazzo Chow that she has put her heart and soul into her business. It must be a little heart-wrenching and scary for her to see a big, built-for-expansion competitor get set to open around the corner. And that strikes a raw nerve. So yeah, if you view the coming of Dalina through the angled prism of Pazzo Chow, it could be seen as a bit of a dick move.
Alas, Maya isn’t my mom, all is fair in love and focaccia, and the Goliaths make the Davids.
If the old adage is true that the best place to open a barber shop is right next to a successful barber shop, then look on the bright side: it’s very likely that some of the 191 newcomers to the neighbourhood who live upstairs from Dalina will tire of its bright slickness and outward efficiencies and desire a different experience from time to time. I know I would. And to have the option of Pazzo Chow around the corner is just one of the great benefits of living in a diverse, food-loving city that offers layers at every level, good and not so good. Tired of Milestones? Go to Earls. Tired of Earls, go to Cactus Club. Tired of Cactus Club? What took you so long?
But seriously, competition strengthens food scenes. It makes them better. Despite my (and possibly your) knee-jerk instinct to swear oaths against Dalina, it’s for the better. Did Campagnolo close after Farina arrived? No. Will Nicli survive after Joe Pizza opens? Of course. If Pazzo Chow is half as good as it is totally charming (and it is), it will almost certainly endure. Hell, it might even thrive more than ever. And who knows about Dalina? If it only has to pay rent to itself, how good – really – does it need to be? Good enough, I’m hoping. I’m crossing my fingers that it will be fantastic. It certainly looks like it has the intention of being exactly that and I guess we’ll soon find out.