Inseparable Culinary School besties Sam Olayinka and Mike Hayman have taken over the old Grotto location at 1725 Davie Street. With it, they aim to open Arike, a Nigerian Street food restaurant with a Canadian twist. The launch is imminent.
I recently toured the space as they were busily gearing up for their March opening. Outside, the “Grotto” sign remained close to eye-level next to the sunken front door. Inside, surfaces were littered with Starbucks cups and spent energy drinks, remnants of caffeine highs past. Chef Sam explains how the gutted wooden bar will soon be equipped with much slicker-looking stainless steel while trying to remove deeply embedded paint chips from his hair. We walk through the dark but warmly lit room, being careful where we step. Progress is being made.
The 1,693 sqft, 44 seat restaurant takes its name from Sam’s grandmother whose Nigerian roots are the inspiration for the menu. Along with Mike, who will serve as GM, the two have collaborated on a menu that will take the classic flavours and aromatic spices of Nigeria and serve them up using modern techniques from around the world, like using Thai charcoal and Japanese yakitori grills to cook various meats. No single piece of equipment will be relied solely on, however, as the pair intend to experiment with creating an ever-evolving menu that incorporates processes like dehydration, smoking, pickling and curing. Expect lots of in-house preparations, including ice creams and cheeses.
Mike and Sam have also enlisted Veteran Bar Manager Roman Kardos, previously from Yaletown Distillery, to sling drinks from behind the soon-to-be installed bar. Keeping with the theme of experimentation, Roman will be making his own salts and bitters to derive unique cocktails, while also using these flavours to riff on classics.
The idea for Arike came when Sam and Mike were studying restaurant management at the Art Institute. After graduation Sam worked at French fine dining institution Bacchus for five years, while Mike took a more corporate role in the junior sous program at Cactus Club. But the idea for the restaurant persisted, and the duo has been focusing all their free time and energy into Arike for the past three years.
When it launches later this month, Arike will be open from 5:30pm to 10:30pm on weekday evenings, with extended hours to 11:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Should you have a craving for something bold in between selfies with the laughing statues just a couple blocks down the street, Arike will be offering takeout starting at 11am throughout the week. They also hope to eventually open a small patio out front.
In the meantime, take a look inside…