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Saltlik: On Real Estate, Restaurant Design


jamiemaw
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Count the rooms with design impact that opened in Vancouver over the past year or so, and you might require only one hand: Chambar, Lift, Watermark, Nu, Earls Paramount Place and . . . ? Well, perhaps that's about it.

There are reasons why we are a restaurant design-challenged city. I think those reasons collide at the intersection of high real estate costs, competition, lack of historic buildings (condo podia are compromised), insufficient financial covenants and a lack of knowledge regarding private capital formation.

So it was interesting to revisit a room in the Alberni and Thurlow area today that I've been monitoring since the beginning of the summer, when construction began to convert it from the retail space called Bruce.

Some $3.4 million later, Saltlik is a beauty, with sleek wooden walls soaring past the huge windows that pour light in off Alberni Street, woven leather walls in the elegant mezzanine, and no stacked rock, that ubiquity that trickled down even into Moxie's stores. There's a big demonstration kitchen, glass-walled wine refrigerators (accessible from a spiral staircase) above the back bar (bringing a new meaning to Earls' fetching staff), and a general feeling that this is a place for grown-ups.

Overall, the feel is contemporary and much less old school-clubby than many steakhouses.

Saltlik's owners snagged an uncommonly good lease for this space, a factor that will benefit them mightily as the nexus of downtown dining reballasts towards Alberni and Thurlow, especially once the Shangri-La opens. I think that Alberni may, in time, become the chi chi sib to the increasing homogeneity of Robson. It's going to be an interesting time in this cluster around Thurlow and Alberni, where several of the highest grossing rooms in the province are centred. In the long term, I expect that the area will likely benefit from the critical mass.

The menu has been developed by Stewart Fuller and Karen Lyons (adapted from their Banff/Calgary restaurants), and features lots of seafood to supplement the steaks, which are priced on the dinner menu from $18 for the skirt steak, $24.50 for a sirloin, $27.50 for a bone-in ribeye all the way up the chain to the most expensive cut, a Porterhouse at $38. Lamb shank ($24) and ribs ($24), amongst others, round out the meaty portion of the menu. Lots of big soups, salads and sides, although potatoes are included with mains.

One thing I found refreshing: no vulcanized Thai prawn cocktail. In its place, a crab and shrimp salad with green goddess dressing.

Today I watched the pre-opening training drill downs, with 20 chefs, grillmen and prep and line cooks spinning through a good deal of the menu, then eating and critiquing it. FOH training is also well advanced.

Unlike many restaurant pre-openings that I've looked in on, I was fascinated by the aura of calm that pervaded the proceedings. These were professionals going through their paces under EC Ryan Best and GM Michael Frigon, everyone in clean whites, the walk-ins, prep kitchens and dry storage rooms fully loaded, labelled and spotless.

I'll look forward to your opinions on its design and food.

Saltlik opens December 9th at 1038 Alberni.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Great! Sounds like Saltlik = gemütlich!

Memo

Yes, for a big room, it exudes the stuff, Memo.

But here's the question. Given . . .

the intersection of high real estate costs, competition, lack of historic buildings (condo podia are compromised), insufficient financial covenants and a lack of knowledge regarding private capital formation.

What type of large-scale restaurants (i.e., that can overcome the challenges above), do you think the city is going to get? And by large scale I mean 150 + seats. Saltlik, by the way, is 210 seats, not including their roof garden, which will not be opened for some time.

Let's say that, in order to return 107% (7% being the cost of private capital right now) of equity in about four years they have to produce about a 125% sales:development cost ratio (including pre-opening and opening expenses) in year one of operations (i.e. $4 million in sales), escalating fairly briskly after that. So what do you think the target market for these big rooms looks like?

I have absolutely no opinion on the subject, although I do know one thing for sure: You'd better make a great bowl of clam chowder.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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For longevity, the target market must be all people. You don't want customers to feel like they don't belong in your restaurant. There have been many restaurants "of the moment" in Vancouver where you would expect to see the in crowd on Thursday nights. The dilema with this demographic is that without fail, these customers always move on to the next hot spot, leaving you trying to fill empty seats with new customers.

A restaurant owner once happily said to me..."I don't recognize anyone here tonight, but the place is full. If all you ever see in your place is that same crowd around town, you are doomed".

That being said, I am a strong beleiver in the theory of "restaurant Displacement", which states: If one new and groovy restaurant opens up, something else will close. This theory is better supported by larger and higher priced restaurants, as there are only so many customers with deep pockets to go around.

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I walked by it the other day and had a peek in - it looks like it is going to be a beautifu space. Much nicer than the Earl's Paramount (whose psuedo night club entrance is a real turnoff). I almost snapped a picture of the construction in progress - but thought the better of it (being the chicken that I am).

Looking forward to trying the steaks there.

Edited by canucklehead (log)
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  • 1 month later...
<snip>

Some $3.4 million later, Saltlik is a beauty, with sleek wooden walls soaring past the huge windows that pour light in off Alberni Street, woven leather walls in the elegant mezzanine, and no stacked rock, that ubiquity that trickled down even into Moxie's stores. There's a big demonstration kitchen, glass-walled wine refrigerators (accessible from a spiral staircase) above the back bar (bringing a new meaning to Earls' fetching staff), and a general feeling that this is a place for grown-ups.

<snip>

I'll look forward to your opinions on its design and food.

Saltlik opens December 9th at 1038 Alberni.

Love the interior design, the currently non-functional wine rack, beautiful. The bathrooms upstairs a great! The views, stunning.

The bar service is great, of course you can't really mess up a Stella, can you?

I've eaten there twice now. The first time, appies which were fairly well done. The second time for lunch. The duck confit salad - I found a bit gamey but Crystal the day manager saved the day with kindness and friendliness.

I've posted a number of photos on my Flickr site: http://flickr.com/photos/urbanmixer/tags/saltlik/

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I had dinner there last week...I was taken by how much it looked like Joe Fortes if it was built today; big stairs with washrooms upstairs, roof garden patio, wine wall, semi-open kitchen at the back, multi-use on multi-levels, etc. I think they hit on some key elements.

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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I had dinner there last week...I was taken by how much it looked like Joe Fortes if it was built today; big stairs with washrooms upstairs, roof garden patio, wine wall, semi-open kitchen at the back, multi-use on multi-levels, etc. I think they hit on some key elements.

But they were out of Heineken !

Jamie, perhaps a boycott ? ! ?

Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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:blink: Just to play the devil’s advocate, but how many ways can you grill a steak? How many more steak joints does Vancouver need, and more importantly can support, especially the size of Saltlik? It is much easier to create an appearance of a busy place when you can sit 50 people instead of 200+, especially during the slow season. Just wondering how it will go for them…

"Since when do you have to be hungry to eat?"

Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish andhe’ll open up his own place right across the street from yours, steal your sous-chef, talk shit about you, haggle with suppliers, undercut your prices, kiss critics’ ass, steal your clients and you’ll eventually curse the day you taught him how to fish.

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More on Saltlik. Mia Stainsby gives it 3.5 stars in today's Vancouver Sun (D22).

"Since when do you have to be hungry to eat?"

Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish andhe’ll open up his own place right across the street from yours, steal your sous-chef, talk shit about you, haggle with suppliers, undercut your prices, kiss critics’ ass, steal your clients and you’ll eventually curse the day you taught him how to fish.

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