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From Road Trip Wisdom to Laugh-Love-Language, with Bailey Hayward and Mathew Bishop

While there is undoubtedly strength in numbers, sometimes just the power of two is enough to work magical things. From front/back of house pairings and designer duos to sibling set-ups and mom & pop alliances, this series of interviews looks to gain insight into what makes some of British Columbia’s more interesting partnerships tick.

Bailey Hayward and Mathew Bishop opened Gary’s on Twelfth in the Fall of 2023. We know very well that it takes something special – call it a particular sort of chemistry – to be able to be partners in both life and business (and put up with each other for long periods of time in a confined space; but more on that later). So, naturally we wanted to get to the bottom of what makes this duo such a winning combination, and learn more about them: their backstory, individual aspirations, and relationship dynamic. Read on below to find out what we discovered:

Take us back to the beginning: where and how did you two meet?

We met at The Mackenzie Room back in 2017. Mathew calls it the “Classic Hospitality Romance Story” — he was a Chef de Partie at the time and I was a Server’s Assistant (it was my very first restaurant gig and I was GREEN). We didn’t hit it off right at the start – it was a sloooooow build over the next year. I always joke about how I’ve never tried to not date someone so hard — but look at us now!

How did Gary’s begin?

Mathew had many more years in restaurants under his belt; he was ready and talking about opening a spot long before I was. I wanted to absorb as much knowledge/experience as possible before even considering doing our own thing, but it was a very natural progression. There was no single “lightbulb moment”; we just eventually felt that it was time to take the next step. Looking back, I don’t think we would have said we ever felt truly ready; it was more like we both knew that at some point we’d have to just jump in.

Originally, we’d been talking about opening a sandwich spot, something fun and lighthearted. We got some very valuable advice from Andrew Jameson (a mentor, and Director of Collective Hospitality). He said, “Stick to what you know, to start.” That advice really clicked for us. We knew relaxed fine dining, because it’s what we’d been doing for years, and it made sense to start there. We still have dreams of opening a fun, lower-price-point-spot, but that’s on the back-burner for now!

Once we’d turned our focus to relaxed fine dining, we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We were inspired by dinners we had hosted in our home, affectionately named after our friend, Greg Park. It was called “Gary Wong’s Social Club”. We knew that name wouldn’t work for a restaurant, but we kept coming back to the name ‘Gary’s’. It felt familiar. We wanted to open a neighbourhood spot; the kind of place that we would want to go to, with no ego and no pretentiousness; it would just be about the food and the hospitality. And so it went.

In terms of the partnership, what are your official roles?

We are equal partners. We both own 50% of the business; there are no outside partners, no investors. Officially, Mathew is Chef/Owner and I am Operations Manager/Owner. We meet somewhere in the middle when it comes to the back-end/financial stuff.

How about “unofficial” roles?

Mathew is the handyman. He almost single-handedly built out Gary’s – the floors, the tables, the kitchen, all of it. He’s a workhorse; he just doesn’t quit! I handle the design/curation and I’m also the hype person – championing the team, #1 cheerleader, comedic relief!

Over time, partnerships develop their own language/shorthand… Can you share a curious/silly/unusual shorthand term you have in your working relationship vocabulary?

We don’t have a language but there is a phrase we say almost everyday (to each other and to the team): “Have fun! Restaurants are supposed to be fun.” It’s kind of a joke but it’s also a good reminder!

Before you officially joined forces as business partners, you worked out a lot of the kinks as road trip partners, traveling together in a Volkswagen, Westfalia. How have the challenges and experiences of living closely on the road influenced the way you work together now?

In 2022, we knew we were getting close to opening our own spot. We wanted to take some time off beforehand, to recharge and get inspired. We bought a 1989 VW Vanagon (which we named “Hank”) and spent 2+ months traveling across ten US states with our dog, Finn. It was the most incredible trip. We knew if we could live together in a van, we could do anything — including starting and running a business together. Living in close quarters really strengthened our ability to communicate (with and without words). It taught us how to read each other’s body language and tone; it taught us how to solve issues quickly.

Images via Gary’s

Speaking of road trips, can you tell us about a particularly mind-blowing meal that you shared while on the road together?

Oddly, restaurants and meals out weren’t the focus of the trip; we honestly just wanted to hangout with our dog. Many of our most memorable meals were ones we cooked for ourselves outdoors, in beautiful places — if you’ve ever worked in hospitality, you know how rare it can be to cook for yourself. We met a man named Jerry while he was out foraging for wild mushrooms in the Oregon sand dunes. We ran into him a second time in the parking lot, and he gifted us a big bag of chanterelles; that night we made a chanterelle pasta next to the ocean. That’s one of the meals we won’t forget. We also remember the first roadside barbecue we ate in Texas; it wasn’t even the best barbecue, but it was a sign of what was to come. We ate well in Texas.

I love the minimalist aesthetic and subtle decor details at Gary’s: the porcelain cat figure, framed antique prints, thrifted seashell planter and, up until my last visit, largely unadorned walls. But you recently added a piece of art to the room, and it works perfectly! Choosing art with someone can be a challenge. Can you share the story behind this particular artwork and how you both agreed on the piece?

It was an easy choice! We first discovered Dan Climan back in 2019 at Mon Lapin in Montreal. We fell in love with his style and we knew that one day we’d purchase a piece. He often paints vehicles and dogs, so we always knew the painting we chose would include one of the two. There’s a gallery in Toronto, General Hardware, which I just happened to reach out to a couple of weeks before an upcoming show of his. They sent us the list of available works — I don’t even think there was any back and and forth, we were both immediately sold on the car and clothesline titled “A Familiar Change”. We’d never hung up a big piece of art before; I remember it was like 2am when we hung it; it was perfect.

Are you always on the same page? If not, how do you navigate decision-making when it comes to an issue where you both want a different outcome?

Big picture: we’re 100% on the same page. We have a shared vision, shared goals, and shared values. We absolutely disagree from time to time when it comes to the small stuff, but I think that’s normal. Our method for navigating those disagreements is simple: we ask ourselves (and each other), “Who is this more important to? Who cares about this more?” And then we follow that lead.

Can you share an example of a time when you had to reconcile different viewpoints to make a joint decision?

I don’t know that we can think of a specific example, but there must be hundreds — perhaps this is a testament of our ability to let things go!

Reflecting on the past year since you’ve opened and managed your restaurant together, how closely have your initial expectations of a business partnership aligned with reality?

It’s strange to look back and think about how closely our initial expectations have aligned with reality. We had already lived together for five years prior to the opening of Gary’s, and worked closely together for six years. A lot of the kinks had already been worked out. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so there were no surprises. And above all, we trust each other.

Which aspects of your partnership have strengthened or become clearer over time?

At the end of the day, Mathew has the back and I have the front. There is no uncertainty; we both know that the other will always rise to the occasion.

Conversely, what has unfolded differently from what you initially anticipated?

We thought it would feel harder/more challenging in different ways. It’s been an easier transition to ownership than we thought! For the first time, we get to execute our own vision and decide what we care and don’t care about. It’s been liberating!

As life partners and business partners who work side-by-side in service every night, are the two relationships delineated in any way? Or are you living a fully integrated/beautifully blurred existence of ‘life is work/work is life’?

Very integrated; Mathew calls it ‘one giant blob’. This is our dream! To open a neighbourhood spot only five minutes away from our own home; it’s more than we could have hoped for. We love restaurants! We love what we do! We’re so excited to be here! That said, we do really value our life/work balance; if we’re outside of the restaurant and one of us doesn’t want to talk shop, we do our best to respect those boundaries.

How do you make each other laugh?

Silly, non-sensical stuff. Mathew sends a lot of memes; memes would be his laugh-love-language. We laugh at ourselves a lot; we have a lot of fun!

What was the last meal you shared together somewhere (other than your own restaurant)?

When we’re not at the restaurant, we’re probably hanging out with our dog. Over the weekend, we had a couple of really nice, sunny days, so we took him down to our favourite summer spot, Diced (next to Jericho Beach) for a Diced burger. Their patio isn’t licensed until the summer, but when it is, they have the COLDEST beer in Vancouver and their patio is grassy and dog-friendly. We love it there!

Lastly, do you have advice for anyone looking to go into business together?

Find someone you trust! Trust is really important.

The Gary’s Team // Though this is an interview about the partnership between Bailey and Mathew, they are the first to say that Gary’s wouldn’t be what it is without the whole team. 

Neighbourhood: West Side
1485 West 12th Ave.

There is 1 comment

  1. I love their philosophy and style. Including their whole team is a class act; looking forward to dining at Gary’s

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