Remember Primos, that 50+ year old Mexican restaurant on West 12th in the heart of South Granville? They threw in the towel this year and sold to Gus Greer and Yogi Johl, who are very close to turning the ancient, 2,400 sqft space into Heirloom (great name), which stands to be the largest vegetarian restaurant in the city.
The incongruity of that last sentence becomes evident when you consider that Johl is well known in the local nightclub trade as an especially large and tough-looking doorman who represented Canada at two Olympic Games in the sport of Wrestling, and that Greer owns The Bourbon and Johnny Foxes (two rough-around-the-edges watering holes not known for their love of beets). I’m pretty sure the big pair tied for the Least Likely To Ever Order A Salad award last year, but people do change – sometimes to the point of losing 50 combined pounds. For both of them, cutting down – or in Greer’s case, cutting out – meat was for health reasons. Johl has had members of his immediate family die young of heart attacks, and as Greer says pointedly, “You only ever see little old men, not big ones.” Of course, they also know a market when they see one, and if the immediate success of the recently opened Acorn on Main Street is any indication, Vancouver vegetarians and vegans are eager for more modern, sexy, well-appointed options.
To chef the expansive, 100 seater, the two beasts have tapped a beauty: Georgia Morley, fresh from Lululemon mogul Chip Wilson’s private kitchen. Her background is in Holistic Nutrition, but she’s no stranger to the brunt of the line, having toiled to open restaurants before (most recently Edible Planet in Railtown and Bistro 394 in Edinburgh). What they’re going for is upscale casual with locally sourced veggies, fruits, and legumes galore, with just about everything – down to the walnut cheeses and rhubarb mustards – made in house. Her menu will see plenty of Asian and Indian influences, but they’re resisting regional specificity. The prices won’t exceed $18, and all of the plates will be sharable. “The food will be market driven,” says Greer, who likens his vision to the original, long-gone Tomato restaurant on West 16th. “We don’t want to be too cavalier with people’s budgets,” he adds. They’ll be open for brunch every day from 10am to 4pm, and for dinner from 5pm until close. Primos left them a 1am liquor license, so they might do a late night menu as well. “We want it to be the best vegetarian restaurant that you ever got drunk at,” jokes Johl. No preachiness. No politics. I like it.
And speaking of booze, they’ll have lots of it. Nick Menzies (ex-Big Lous, Whineos, Johnny Foxes) will be handling the domestic craft beer and cocktail quotient, while Geoff Waddell of Hy’s Whistler is sculpting their wine list. For coffee, they’re bringing in 49th Parallel.
How will it do? Despite the long run of Primo’s, this stretch of Granville is notoriously rough on new restaurants. Not only is it expensive real estate, but the local clientele is as fickle as it is demanding. Vij’s, Ousi, West – they’ve all stood the test of time because they’ve become destination joints, famed for their cuisine or their ancillary entertainments. With anchors set in such concrete, they’ve never needed to bank on the whims of Shaughnessey (perish the thought) or the employees of the Bank of Montreal (et al). Others, however, have, and the blocks are haunted by their ghosts. Still, having secured a location off Granville proper in the historic Douglas Lodge and singled out a concept that is definitely on the up and up, odds are that Heirloom will thrive out of the gate and be here – going smart and strong – well beyond the turn of the next decade.
Opening day is getting pretty imminent. Nevermind the shell that you see in the shots above and below; I figure they’ll be serving their first guests well before the month is out. Local design legends David Nicolay and Rob Edmonds of Evoke ID (see also Union Bar, Habit Lounge, The Cascade Room, and a dozen others) are on the job, and it’s looking good.