Why a working holiday in Canada inspired these Brits to open a West Coast-themed restaurant in London

Londoners Livia Boumeester and Louisa Stevenson-Hamilton were so fascinated by Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood during a visit two years ago that they decided to stay awhile and put their corporate work behind them.

“It was super relaxed, very young. Everyone was kind of hanging out,” said Boumeester of the residential beachfront district west of the city’s downtown area.

The best friends, both 27, worked for a year in the hospitality industry at the Vancouver Lawn Tennis and Badminton Club and used their free time to explore British Columbia and Canada.

“The idea of ​​being able to ski and go to the beach and having it all while living in a city was such a new idea coming from London,” said Stevenson-Hamilton.

They loved it so much that when the couple returned to London in late summer 2020, they made the life-changing decision to quit their career in finance and invest all of their savings in construction. of their own piece of Kitsilano in a corner of South West London. . In early October, they opened a restaurant named after one of Vancouver’s hippest streets: West 4th.

“Every person said, ‘Don’t do it,’” Boumeester said. “But it was good.”

The solarium at the front of West 4th is reminiscent of those found in restaurants on West 4th Avenue in Vancouver. (Salma Nurmohamed / CBC)

A taste of the house

The West 4th’s menu is inspired by Canadian ingredients and the food Boumeester and Stevenson-Hamilton loved while traveling the West Coast and other parts of Canada.

For brunch, there’s the Granville Market wrap with tofu and vegan sausage, named after a popular Vancouver market, or the Maple Ridge, Egg Benedict with Canadian bacon named after a suburb of Vancouver. Vancouver.

Granville Market packaging takes its name from Vancouver’s popular Granville Island Market. (Salma Nurmohamed / CBC)

Dinner options include venison and cranberry tartare and salted salmon.

A Canadian Caesar, made with Clamato juice, is a hallmark of the drink menu. The vodka-based cocktail may be a staple in restaurants across Canada, but it’s a rarity just about everywhere else.

And no Canadian-themed menu would be complete without poutine, Boumeester said. As you might expect, the Quebec favorite was one of the top sellers.

Andrew Male, a 54-year-old CFO from Vancouver who lives just around the corner from West 4th, drinks a Caesar, a classic Canadian cocktail. (Salma Nurmohamed / CBC)

While the beach is missing from the London version of West 4th, a clock on the wall set to Vancouver time and bottles of BC Burrowing Owl wine help set the mood. They even recently hosted an Okanagan wine tasting.

Boumeester and Stevenson-Hamilton believed that all of this would be enough to attract their target market: the young brunch crowd from nearby upscale London areas such as Chelsea, Fulham and Parsons Green.

But to their surprise, some of their most dedicated clients so far have turned out to be Canadian expats. Stevenson-Hamilton said they receive a table or two a day from Canadians, some from outside London.

“We did this as a local restaurant in Fulham taking inspiration from something that we had enjoyed, but we hadn’t anticipated this huge Canadian audience, which is a lovely thing to have,” he said. she declared.

Familiar feeling

Among those loyal clients is the architect Tanis Paul, 47, a Winnipegger who has lived in the British capital for six years. She said that a piece of Canada in the city was exactly what London was missing.

“There’s just something about it that makes me feel right at home,” Paul said.

West 4th has managed to capture some of the essence of Vancouver’s outdoor lifestyle, Paul said.

“There’s just something that makes me feel at home,” says Tanis Paul, 47, a Winnipegger who has lived in the British capital for six years. (Salma Nurmohamed / CBC)

The front of the restaurant has a large solarium. Not quite the outdoors, but perhaps more appropriate, given London’s infamously humid climate.

An airy blue, green, and white color scheme, books about the Rocky Mountains, and Canadian music in the background add to a West Coast vibe.

“It’s comfortable, the people are friendly and that just adds to the vibe,” said Paul. “It’s a general feeling. It’s just cool and pleasant.”

Melissa Turner, 42, from Orangeville, Ont., And owner of a London-based online education business, said after 15 years away from home, it’s nice to find a place that seems familiar.

Melissa Turner, 42, is from Orangeville, Ont., And owns a London-based online training business. She loved hearing the familiar Canadian accents around her on a recent visit. (Salma Nurmohamed / CBC)

“It’s funny, you hear the Canadian accents,” she said of customers who could be heard in the background during an interview with CBC.

Boumeester said that for some Canadian tourists who stop by, it’s curiosity that attracts them.

“It’s this fascination of, ‘Who loved my country so much that they wanted to bring it back with them?'”

Canadian cuisine, a rarity in London

The competition in the category of Canadian themed restaurants in London is pretty slim.

You can find pubs, cafes and restaurants from all over the world in the British capital, but Canadian cuisine is a rarity.

Tim Horton’s, headquartered in Toronto, claims to have 40+ UK branches, but no stores near central London. The Maple Leaf Pub in Covent Garden has been around for decades, catering specifically to a host of sports bars.

The Maple Leaf Tavern near London’s Covent Garden area, pictured on December 21, also caters to the expat Canadian crowd. (Justin Tallis / AFP / Getty Images)

The fact that West 4th offers a different kind of Canadian experience is what appealed to Tiffany Rokosz-Wong, 36, a Vancouver chef who lives in London, on her first visit.

“It’s not a sports bar with Canadian flags all over the place,” said Rokosz-Wong. “It’s not a gimmick.”

She said she was proud to see this more elegant version of Canada showcased, accompanied by some of her favorite Canadian wines.

“It is touching for me.”

“It’s not fancy,” Tiffany Rokosz-Wong, a Canadian living in London, said of the ambiance of the restaurant. (Salma Nurmohamed / CBC)

About 90,000 Canadians live in the UK, according to data company Statista.

With all of those Canadian expats, West 4th owners might have found an untapped market, said Ben Floyd, director of restaurant consulting firm Lumiere.

Floyd has helped build successful restaurants across London and said that while the West 4th Concept sounds like a good concept, there are challenges for owners to expect.

Half of London’s restaurants fail in the first year, he said, and the pandemic has made it even more difficult to stay open. Nearly 10% of restaurants across the country closed between spring 2020 and spring 2021, according to Market Recovery Monitor data.

The owners of West 4th are cautious with their sales figures so far, but said the restaurant is generally booked Friday through Sunday.

Ben Floyd, director of restaurant consulting firm Lumiere, said part of what draws customers to West 4th is Canadians’ reputation for being “warm, friendly and welcoming people.” (Salma Nurmohamed / CBC)

This canadian charm

Floyd said a London restaurant the size of West 4th in a similar neighborhood would likely need to generate at least 18,000 GBP (around C $ 31,000) per week in sales just to break even.

West 4th has around 15 tables and seats in a large bar in the middle of the room, which first caught Floyd’s attention.

He said the bar certainly contributes to a feeling of space, but can be a bit risky.

“In central London you fill as many tables as you can,” he said.

A pedestrian wearing a COVID-19 mask walks past empty tables outside a pizzeria in London’s Soho district. Opening a restaurant is risky at the best of times, but even more so in the event of a pandemic. Almost 10% of UK restaurants closed between spring 2020 and spring 2021, according to data from the Market Recovery Monitor. (Justin Tallis / AFP / Getty Images)

As for the menu, Floyd finds the Canadian theme “interesting” and the selection familiar enough to Brits that it is not “polarizing”.

But it’s the story of the owners, their travels and their presence at the restaurant that is the real draw, said Floyd.

“I don’t necessarily know what Canadian food is, but I do know Canadians are warm, friendly and inviting people, and they can play with it.”

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