This morning I read that QuadReal Property Group, currently refitting the iconic Canada Post building on West Georgia, had tasked the Joseph Richard Group (JRG) to create and manage a food hall on the building’s main floor.
The rude question must be asked:
What the actual fuck could they possibly be thinking?
I’d heard rumours of a 26,000 sqft food hall possibly going into the ground floor of The Post. I’d been hoping they were true for good reason, not least for the gullets of the 6,000 Amazon workers who will toil above it. Modern food halls have so much potential, as we’ve seen in major North American cities like New York, Portland, Los Angeles and Toronto, where they’ve been springing up to critical acclaim in recent years. Think of them as grown-up, hyper-concentrated and discerning food courts that celebrate quality and a sense of place. They can squeeze a lot of talent, culture and deliciousness into one spot, making them an obvious draw to both locals and tourists alike. Vancouver, despite being one of the most exciting food cities in the country, had somehow yet to get on board, making confirmation of these whispers super exciting. This could have been a big deal.
But the more I read of the confirmation the more my brow furrowed. Why would a seemingly astute real estate company whose declared mission is to “create living and working environments that enhance the lives of the people and communities they serve”, pick a restaurant group like JRG to create and operate Vancouver’s first and only food hall?
I have nothing against the company that operates the burbs-only Townhall and S+L chain restaurants (plus a scattered collection of ghost kitchens and so-called “public houses”) but let’s be real: these are not original, inventive, or regionally representative establishments by any stretch of the most elastic imagination. As is the case with similarly uninspired operations like Browns Social House and Earls, I understand they serve a purpose and forgive them their flaws, but that doesn’t get me closer to understanding why a real estate behemoth that manages global assets totalling more than $18 billion would select JRG, a company that doesn’t even operate in Vancouver proper and – to date – has only ever demonstrated vision enough for what even the most forgiving food-lover would describe as cookie cutter bullshit.
Is it because the don’t want the complication that comes with multiple leases and multiple operators, even if they play in a tasty league that exceeds the capabilities of a single player like JRG? I understand the elegance and appeal of the economic simplicity, but they miss the point and forfeit the right to market it honestly as a “food hall” when they hire just one company to twirl all the tongs.
It makes me wonder if QuadReal gave the slightest shit when making this decision, which is especially a shame given how they’re headquartered in downtown Vancouver. I suppose sometimes the people in charge of decisions like this just don’t know what the hell they are doing and don’t concern themselves with the impact their ignorance might have. And I ask myself if that wasn’t the case here — some corporate flack in a skyscraper who still eats like a stoned teenager making a choice that no one cared or thought to second guess. A shame indeed, for if they didn’t know any better they should have tried much, much harder.
But who knows? JRG might surprise the hell out of everyone and knock this project out of the park. Given the hand Vancouver’s food scene has been dealt here I certainly hope so and suppose there’s a first time for everything. Still, I can’t help but suspect that this was a lost opportunity on a scale that has the potential to be genuinely embarrassing for all involved.
I want to be crystal clear that I’m not shitting on JRG here. They’re a wildly successful company that knows how to make money in a highly competitive industry. The truth is – and I hope regular readers of mine would recognize this – I would react with the exact same doubt and derision if QuadReal made the deal with Joey, Cactus Club, Milestones, or any of the other middling “casual fine dining” restaurant chains that Vancouver and its surrounding satellite cities currently suffer. They’re one and the same. And that’s the problem. The object of my frustration is the indifference of a powerful real estate company once again getting in the way of what’s best for Vancouver.