This list of fun facts does not identify the ten best restaurants in Vancouver. Or the ten most popular. Instead it gives a synopsis of ten restaurants, organized chronologically, that opened in Vancouver and went on to become successful elsewhere in Canada and some in the U.S.
In 1928 White Spot founder Nat Bailey opened Canada’s first drive-in at Granville and 67th when car culture took to the roads. Car hops ferried the food out on long trays that balanced between windows. The chain now sees more than 17 million guests annually at 133 White Spot and Triple O’s locations throughout BC, Alberta and Asia. During Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017, White Spot was the only Western Canadian based restaurant chain to be recognized as one of the 150 companies, organizations and institutions that make us authentically Canadian.
George Tidball launched the first McDonald’s franchised restaurant in Canada — and the first outside the U.S. — in 1967 in Richmond. Today, 2.5 million guests visit over 1,400 McDonald’s across Canada every day. At the end of 2016, McDonald’s operated 36,899 restaurants in 120 countries, serving 68 million customers each day and employing more than 375,000 people.
The Old Spaghetti Factory originated in Portland in 1969 as a knock-off of a San Francisco restaurant and expanded to Canada in 1970 with its original location in Gastown. In 2017, 15 restaurants operate in BC, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, while 42 do business in 13 states.
Building on the success of his McDonald’s franchise, which he sold, George Tidball established The Keg in 1971 in an old industrial building in North Vancouver. Now more than 100 Keg Restaurants operate in all provinces (excluding PEI) and four states — Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Washington. At a BC Restaurant Hall of Fame event in 2014, 500 people stood up and clinked glasses filled with Grand Marnier in Mr. Tidball’s honour. Why Grand Marnier? Because for a time, The Keg was one of the biggest buyers of Grand Marnier in the world.
Starbucks began in 1971 in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market. In 1987 Starbucks established its first international store, a modest one, at the Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver and since then Canadians go to over 1,070 Starbucks locations across the country. Worldwide, more than 15,000 stores in 50 countries offer the Starbucks experience.
Two former waiters from Earls (which opened in Vancouver in 1983) started the Cactus Club Café in 1988 in North Vancouver. In 1996, the company expanded into Alberta, which almost led to financial ruin. However, it survived and by 1998 the chain operated ten locations in BC and Alberta. In 2015, the CCC had 29 locations — and counting — in Western Canada and Toronto. Its success owes much to Rob Feenie, the first chef in Canada to be crowned an Iron Chef.
In 1989, Milestones began on Denman Street in Vancouver (this original restaurant closed in 2016). Today, the restaurant spans coast-to-coast, with over 50 locations in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Newfoundland — and one in Seattle.
Owners Pete Boëda and Barney McKenzie have kept their Bean Around the World business personal since 1990. The partners travel extensively, selecting the best beans directly from plantations around the world, hence the name. Today 27 independent BATW shops operate in Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto.
Blenz Coffee originated in 1992 in the West End, Vancouver. The company has since grown to over 60 locations in BC, Japan and the Philippines.
The Neate family has roasted coffee in Vancouver for four generations. In 1996, John Neate Jr (JJ) established JJ Bean Coffee Roasters and opened two retail cafés. Now two dozen cafés operate in Vancouver and Toronto.
If I omitted any restaurants first opened in Vancouver, feel free to add to this list in the comments below. •