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The GM at One of Canada’s Best Restaurants Dishes on Ambition, Mentors and More

Danielle McManus before service at the award-winning St. Lawrence restaurant.

We often hear the same names of Vancouver hospitality titans in local media. They do very well to represent and have done so for years. We work up thirsts and appetites following their exploits and look forward to trying whatever it is they come up with next, but we seldom consider the individuals who toil in relative anonymity alongside them, and we’re often late in introducing those destined to join them in their starry pantheon. This series of short interviews looks to introduce our readers to this new breed, one blossoming talent at a time.

Meet Danielle McManus. Her lengthy resume and the experiences she’s gained over the years have earned her the General Manager role at one of Vancouver’s most charming and celebrated new restaurants, St. Lawrence. Scout recently met with the dancer at heart to discuss what it’s been like running such a popular spot, why her mentor at Hawksworth had such a profound impact on her, and why turmeric is one of her favourite cocktail ingredients. Say hello…

So where are you from? I wish that was an easy answer. I was born on Vancouver Island but my family moved around quite a lot. We lived all over Alberta and British Columbia. But for the most part, I call Victoria home. I spent the most time there growing up.

Why did you become a Manager? I have this insatiable need to be changing and growing. I don’t like stagnancy. While I was in school studying in my early twenties working in restaurants provided an excellent source of fulfillment. I’ve been lucky to have had some great restaurant jobs over the years. I’ve always really loved this industry so when I finished school I decided to dig in a little deeper to see what was there. Chambar is where I first began my management career. Then I moved on to Hawksworth and it was there that I really began to see this becoming more of my future.

Did you ever have ambitions to do anything else? Oh yeah, absolutely! I grew up a dancer. That was my life for a long time. By the age of thirteen I was seriously dancing thirty hours a week outside of school. I was in a dance company in Calgary and we did every style of dance you can imagine. From tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop, etc…So for quite some time I believed that that was going to be a thing. But looking at where I am now, working in hospitality has brought many of my passions into one. I love connecting with people and this industry is great for that. I also studied nutrition at University so there’s that connection as well. I love learning about food, farming, cooking, wine and everything else food and drink-related.

“I want and believe that we need more Chef-driven restaurants. What I mean by this is more restaurants owned and run by Chefs. This isn’t so much of a trend per se, but just an approach that I hope becomes more and more prominent. “

Where did you learn? Do you have any formal training? I would definitely consider my time spent with Chad Clark (former GM of Hawksworth) as my time spent in Hospitality University. I was extremely lucky to have been mentored by him.

What was your first restaurant/bar job and how long did it last? Ha! If my memory serves me well my first restaurant job was at the Earls at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I think I went straight to serving at the age of eighteen. They have a really great training program and it was a fun time.

Ok, now name every restaurant/bar you’ve ever worked in. Let me see….let’s just say Earls as a whole as I worked at several locations. The Earls in Victoria was my favourite. Then, Silk Road (Melbourne, Australia), Nautical Nelly’s (Victoria – loved every second of working there), Weigh West Marine Resort (Tofino), Granville Island Brewing, Heirloom Vegetarian, Chambar, Hawksworth, and St. Lawrence.

If you could work for a week in one Vancouver restaurant/bar, which one would it be? This is gonna sound like a weird answer for some, but Pear Tree Bistro. I’ve never even been but I’ve talked to so many who have and love it, and I think it would just be fun to go and see what they do and how they run things.

What is the single most important lesson you have learned from your current boss? I love my current boss (JC Poirier, Owner of St. Lawrence). JC has this unwavering confidence and grace. He’s a very elegant and strong person. Having his energy around is extremely beneficial. I love his dedication. There’s a fairness and a realness and a soul to him and his team. There’s a reason the standards are there. There’s a consistency that you can see with him. The values he instills are tremendous.

Who have been some of your most impactful mentors? Chad Clark has definitely been the most important mentor to me. I had this really fantastic access to him, something I don’t think anyone else will ever have as I was the last one to have run the restaurant while he was there. My time at Hawksworth was really just myself, one other person and him. While I was there he’d moved on to be the Director of Operations, a move which ultimately gave me a lot of room to operate within the dining room. I’d check in with him constantly to make sure I was doing this and that correct and he was always super helpful. I often found myself asking WWCD (What would Chad do?) in certain situations. Honestly, I can still hear his voice in the back of my head from time to time.

Let’s say you had an unlimited budget to open the restaurant of your dreams. Really, the sky’s the limit. What would the concept be? I was recently in Brisbane with my husband Gez [McAlpine] and we were at this stunning place on the water with big open windows, amazing cocktails and very relaxed food. I’m a very aesthetic person by nature — how things feel and how things look and how they come together harmoniously is what I like. I would never open a rigid fine dining restaurant. Ambiance and style with beautiful wine, food and cocktails with a view is definitely what I’d do.

What current restaurant trend are you already sick of? The only thing I can think of is I want and believe that we need more Chef-driven restaurants. What I mean by this is more restaurants owned and run by Chefs. This isn’t so much of a trend per se, but just an approach that I hope becomes more and more prominent. To answer your question, I guess I’m not a fan of concept restaurants.

Do you have any ambition to open a restaurant/bar of your own one day? So many people have asked Gez and I that but honestly, no. It’s not something I’m looking to ever do.

Are you big into cocktails? Yeah, of course! I love sours. Pretty much anything Gez makes for one. I love refreshing cocktails. They have this turmeric shrub up at The Keefer Bar which I’m completely obsessed with. The Buffalo Soldier is my go to at The Keefer.

What is your favourite type of wine, beer and spirit to drink? My favourite type of wine is a good, crisp, dry Rose on a nice day. As for beer, the Duchesse de Bourgogne is my go to. It’s a thick, syrupy, sour Belgian-style beer with high alcohol. It’s extremely powerful and full in flavour. It can stand up to most dishes and I love its versatility. For a spirit, I’m a gin girl. Botanist gin is my favourite. Haha…wink wink! [Gez is a rep for Botanist.]

What are your thoughts on the BC restaurant/bar industry? I can’t fully speak to BC as a whole, but Vancouver, it’s a cool time right now. I love seeing friends and people I’ve come up with doing interesting things. Watching them succeed. I really like what’s happening down in our neighbourhood. I live a few blocks from St. Lawrence and having seen this area evolve has been a treat to witness.

Name some of your favourite Vancouver restaurants? Les Faux Bourgeois is one of my favourites. Gez and I head there often and we love the community aspect of it. The staff have been there for so long and the service is on point and I just love being transported – that feeling of being somewhere else – when I dine. I also really love going to Bao Bei. The food is so consistent and I just adore the room. They’re like family to me.

Where do you see yourself, career-wise, in five years? Probably here still at St. Lawrence. This is definitely home for the foreseeable future. I’m very happy where I am.

If you could recommend just one hospitality book for any aspiring Restaurant Manager what would it be? Setting the Table by Danny Meyer. It just covers so much information.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being a Manager these days? Watching your team grow. Everyone who’s here has brought some level of superior excellence to the table and I love that about my team. But seeing them grow in other areas has definitely been a fun thing to see.

You’ve just clocked out and you’re thirsty. Where are you going and what are you drinking? Definitely holed up at The Keefer Bar drinking a Buffalo Soldier cocktail. Cuchillo, as well, is a spot I often find myself at. They make some delicious margaritas.

Outside of running restaurants, what are some of your other passions? I grew up dancing as I’ve mentioned already. Being active and physical is a must for my sanity. Hiking with our dog, yoga and spin are all staples of my routine.

What’s the most enjoyable part of your job? Just spending time in this room with people and my staff. We do a pre-shift meal everyday and I just love chatting and being with the team before service. I’m very lucky I get to do what I do for a living.

Neighbourhood: Railtown Japantown
269 Powell St.

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