Rainier Hotel restaurant a reflection of Gastown’s glory days

VANCOUVER—The heritage Rainier Hotel reflects the community and the glory days of Gastown.

By Leslie Wu

VANCOUVER—Local operator Sean Heather sees his
new restaurant, deli and retail space in the ground floor of the
heritage Rainier Hotel as a reflection of the community and the glory
days of Gastown.

“We don’t call what we’re doing at Rainier Provisions gentrification, we call it restoring,” Heather told CLN.

He pointed out that the downtown east side used to be the most
prosperous part of the city between 1908 and 1940. “We’re bringing it
back to what it used to be,” he said.

Rainier
Provisions, which opened in mid-February, spotlights the artisanal
producers with whom Heather has built  relationships over the years for
his  seven other restaurants and pubs in the area.

A carvery option with roasted meats and hot sides such as mashed
potatoes, polenta and gravy allows for quick turnover at lunch, as well
as quick items such as seafood pot pie, vegan chili and pulled pork
sandwiches.

The deli counter features items such as a daily sausage offering from
D-Original Sausage Company’s sustainable sausages, created by fifth
generation German sausage-maker Drews Driessen and his family, as well
as humanely-farmed charcuterie from East Vancouver’s Moccia Urbani.

Rainier’s 2,200 square foot space seats 110 people, with an
additional capacity for 40 seats on the patio, which was an important
consideration to Heather.

“At the Irish Heather, we’ve got 190 seats in total, but it’s spread
over three to four rooms,” he said. “We turn away functions over 60 all
the time, so we can now accommodate them at Rainier Provisions.”

This diversification throughout the Heather Group carries through all
aspects of Heather’s restaurants, including the sourcing. Heather
Hospitality Group includes the Irish Heather Gastropub, Salty Tongue,
Judas Goat Taberna, Salt Tasting Room, Shebeen Whisk(e)y House,
Everything Cafe and Bitter.

“We tried to find ways that we could work within ourselves and the operation,” he said.

“In terms of baking, we asked ‘What if we do all our baking
ourselves? Then, if we need a birthday cake, which we used to send out
for, we can do it in house.’” Heather is also looking at Rainier
Provisions as a site to make the soup for all of his businesses.

At Salt, he uses Seattle-based Stumptown Coffee until the end of its
14 day shelf life, after which it goes into the freezer and then to
Vancouver-based R&B Brewing, where it is transformed into a
specially brewed Stumpy Porter that is used at Bitter and will be
available at Rainier Provisions soon.

Another element that will be transplanted over to the Rainier is the
Pit for Your Supper concept, where the community gathers at a long table
and pits stone fruit from local orchards, which is then frozen and used
in cooked food such as chutneys and stewed items throughout the Heather
Group all year round.

“It’s booked out every summer, because it’s fun. It feels like summer
at your grandparents’ house,” said Heather, who noted that the last
event processed 2,800 lbs of fruit.

As an operator at West Cordova St. and Carrall, it was important to
Heather to keep prices in line with the area. “It’s not priced beyond
what the neighbourhood can support,” he said. “The point is to teach
people about  what these small producers are putting out. And it was
important to me that we reach a lot of people…I don’t want to just feed
20 diners.”

The issue of pricing and gentrification can be a contentious one in
the area. Around the corner from Rainier, high-end restaurant Pidgin
drew anti-gentrification protesters to its doors after opening earlier
this year, with picket lines disrupting service by shining lights into
the eyes of the diners.

The Rainier space has also been made headlines recently, albeit for a
different reason. In the two stories above Rainier Provisions lies the
40-bed Rainier Hotel, which provides single room occupancy to women who
are homeless or in danger of being homeless. The program, operated by
Vancouver Coastal Health, came to the end of its funding in late 2012.

“The people living upstairs are classified by BC Housing as hard to
house and need hospital care,” said Heather, who used to provide meals
to the people in those rooms once a month, and has now increased his
efforts to a meal once a week.

Ultimately, Heather wants to engage the community that he has operated in for 17 years.
“It
worked out to be such an organic growth for us,” he said. “Everything
we have and all of our businesses are within a three block radius of the
Rainier space.”

Rainier Provisions. 2 West Cordova Street. 604-558-2473. Website: www.rainierprovisions.com. Twitter: @The_Rainier.