Interview with Mark Brand

Restaurateur | Vancouver

I met up with Mark last week at the counter in his Save-On-Meats diner and talked about his business interests and his community. It was not only a fascinating interview but one that was inspiring as well.

Mark Brand opened his first restaurant Boneta in 2007, he has since opened up others including The Diamond, Sea Monster Sushi, Save-On-Meats. He also owns Shark & Hammer (clothing) as well as Catalog (art gallery), and the Save-On-Meats (butcher shop). He has previously competed in several bartending competitions including one that I had attended during the Olympics where he won Gold.

As a kid growing up, what did you want to be?

I wanted to be in rescue services, a fireman, I also wanted to travel and see things. I was fortunate to spend 3 years in Nigeria living there with my father and it was an eye opening experience. My Aunt was a chef and I spent much time around her where my love for food developed and by the time I was 17 I wanted to own a restaurant.

What drives you to succeed with all of your different business interests from the restaurants to the gallery to the clothing shop?

A few things;

1)    The success of the partners and the skillset they have to bring to our city.

2)    Vancouver needs more risk taking – there is no formula for the crazy.

3)    Make sure our neighborhood is balanced with cool independents along with the large developments.

Would you identify with being an entrepreneur or restaurateur foremost?

I just identify in doing what I do, from creating to enjoying menu development in my restaurants. My life is enriched daily.

Are you still competing in cocktail competitions? And what interested you to compete for the first time?

In 2006 I started competing in cocktail competitions, but in 2010 during the Olympics my friend Shaun Layton invited me to compete in a global bartending competition that was being held at George Lounge which I did and it was a lot of fun. Yes of course I would do it again, it is always fun to do. I have so much respect for my peers in the in the industry and I love to do it.

What are the most challenging elements of running restaurants?

Well the challenges are endless;

  • Managing people
  • Managing cash flow
  • Sourcing properly and ethically
  • Service issues are a challenge
  • Drawing on people who would love to work for us

What do you like to do in your off time outside of business?

This may sound crazy, but I don’t have any hobbies or time off. I just go hang out at my gallery and look at art or I hang out at one of the restaurants and eat or create new menus or visit the clothing store.

What is your favourite dish in one of your own restaurants? And in which restaurant?

Octopus Chips at Boneta

What do you like to eat when eating outside of your own restaurants?

Japanese food

What are your Favourite restaurants outside of your own?

  1. Phnom Penh
  2. Baru Latino
  3. The Peartree
  4. The Black Frog

Which cities around the world provide you with culinary inspiration for your restaurants when you travel?

  • New York
  • Portland
  • Seattle
  • Nova Scotia where I am from.

What is your fascination with Gastown that has lead you to opening all your restaurants and other businesses in this neighborhood?

It’s the best neighborhood on the planet. The last area of the city that has history. My investment is in to a community that is not new, there is no place that has so much love and compassion.

Where do you get your creative inspiration?

Everywhere and in everything. From the people I work with to visual and architecture based.

How did the Gastown Gamble tv series come about?

We were approached to do other shows beforehand and that wouldn’t work for us. Lark Productions came to me and this was one that I liked and I had rules such as no exploitation and that there would be no scripted scenes it would just be us. In the end Oprah loved it, it’s the first original Canadian production for OWN tv in Canada. We have already been signed for the next season.

Define your version of “vertical integration”

This building is a perfect example –

Produce, contain and support sustainable.

Bringing in a protein to the meal program, to the butcher shop, to the restaurants (with no vehicles using no emissions). Interacting all the green practices that we can.

What is your beverage of choice – beer, wine or milk shakes?


Who are your mentors?

Jack Wiley – aka Diamond Jack Wiley an amazing guy, single smartest businessman that I know.

My father and my grandfathers for their work ethic.

What is the secret for a business to succeed?

Being an ear for your people, you can’t be absent.

What is on the horizon for you and your restaurants in the near future?

  • Boneta will open the patio and we will be open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner.
  • As the neighborhood becomes busier we will embrace all day operations.
  • Heavily – social and education mandates
  • Working with VCC to do heavy cooking on my 4th floor in the Save-On-Meats building.

By: Richard Wolak

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