Four of Vancouver’s best chefs are teaming up to open a takeaway fast food restaurant on Granville Island. They are Angus An, owner/chef at Maenam, Freebird Chicken Shack, Sen Pad Thai, Fat Mao and Longtail Kitchen; Hamid Salimian, formerly executive chef at Diva at the Met, a veteran Team Canada chef and coach, and chef/instructor at Vancouver Community College; Joël Watanabe, executive chef at Bao Bei and the chef/co-owner of Kissa Tanto; and Robert Belcham, the co-founder/chef of Campagnolo, Campagnolo Roma, Upstairs at Campagnolo and Monarch Burger.
The concept is called Popina Canteen, and it is slated to launch as soon as this summer. The construction will see three 20 ft by 8 ft shipping containers arranged in what is now part of the northwest parking lot next to the Public Market. One of these containers will have its sides cut off to become a 20 seat “parklet” overlooking False Creek, which is to say it will boast one of the greatest views in Vancouver.
The name comes from Popinae, or the little wine and food bars that once upon a time (2,000 years ago) dotted the breadth of the Roman Empire from Yorkshire to Syria. A popina was the sort of rough and ready place where the lower ranks of society could cut loose and have a good time. They were very common — as ubiquitous as fast food restaurants are today. Archaeologists discovered over 120 popinae in the ruins of Pompeii, with a single city block (running through the theatre district) crowded with 13 of them.
Does that mean we’re going to see a lot of Roman-inspired fare? No. Will it be an open air den of all manner of vice and grog? Not really. But it will be licensed (rejoice!); it will be outdoors (hooray!); and the food will be quick and diverse in its origins. I met up with the chefs a month ago to discuss the concept, and they spoke of a short but super sweet menu of delicious things done exceptionally well. We’re talking falafel, fried chicken, burgers and lobster rolls alongside ceviche and steamed crab with some ice cream to finish. To drink, expect beer, wine and possibly a couple of bottled cocktails. The branding, which I’ve yet to see, is being done by Glasfurd & Walker, so I expect it will be as tight as a drum.
The foursome got the idea to work together when they were arrived as individual vendors to a different project that they ultimately walked away from four years ago — a food market inside the old Vancouver Police Building. (Dwell for a moment on how sweet that would have been!) After that fell through the four chefs kept busy with their own respective careers, but the idea of working together on a quick service concept nevertheless kept percolating until the Granville Island opportunity came up.
They signed the deal in January, and the rest of the vendors on Granville Island were informed of their coming today. Expect press release(s) to be distributed this week, and an exciting summer of good eats and aggressive seagulls to follow. Here’s an except from the draft I’ve seen:
The addition of this new restaurant is one of a number of initiatives that are being implemented as part of the Granville Island 2040: Bridging Past & Future report recommendations. The key strategies of the report include expanding the Public Market and transforming the area around it into a Market District, as well as improving access to the island, embracing arts and innovation, and enhancing the public realm.
“We are thrilled to welcome Popina Canteen to Granville Island. This innovative concept is the ideal way to move forward with our vision for an expanded Market District on the island,” says Lisa Ono, Manager, Public Affairs & Programming for CMHC-Granville Island. “During our recent Granville Island 2040 public consultation and planning process, there was strong demand from both locals and visitors for more varied and creative food offerings on the island”.
We’ll have more on Popina as it develops.