Brewhall’s large, fast-casual concept gains traction in Olympic Village

Serial entrepreneur Daniel Frankel launched concept in part because it needs fewer workers

Tap and Barrel Restaurants owner Daniel Frankel opened his sixth restaurant, and first Brewhall, four weeks ago | Glen Korstrom

Four weeks after what owner Daniel Frankel calls a “quiet launch,” his large Brewhall establishment in Olympic Village has started to attract a steady clientele that is seeking a different experience from anything else in Vancouver.

For Frankel, the brewery’s fast-casual-dining nature also partly solves a significant challenge that he faces at his three Tap and Barrel restaurants and his two TAPshack restaurants – hiring staff.

He said he has hired around 100 people to staff the 12,000-square-foot space at the corner of East Second Avenue and Quebec Street. Had he needed to also hire servers and others who tend tables, he would have needed around 225 employees, he said.

“There’s never been a 400-seat fast-casual restaurant in Vancouver,” he told Business in Vancouver. “It’s all counter service. Most restaurants would kill you if you told your server four times that you want to move. We encourage that.”

The establishment did not appear to have 400 physical seats at its August 8 launch party, but that is what Frankel told BIV that he is licensed for: about 350 inside with another 50 on front and back patios.

He said that his new concept not only addresses the region’s systemic restaurant-sector labour shortage but also what he believes is the millennial generation’s desire to "curate" their own dining and drinking experiences.

“You could start by sitting at the communal picnic table and then pick up your beer and move to the patio,” he said. “Then sit at the bar, and then go upstairs to our drink lab where we do rotating cocktails and have a whisky lab.”

So far the venture would seem to be a success, with Frankel estimating that it has been serving about 1,100 guests on slow days and around 1,700 guests on busy days.

Frankel bought the assets of the now-defunct Steel Toad Brewing for an undisclosed amount in a transaction that closed in February. That former brewery had opened in 2014 and it closed permanently on January 31.

Frankel then spent a considerable amount of money to renovate the space before opening it to the public for the first time on July 11.

Part of Brewhall’s distinctiveness is also where it is housed – in the Opsal Steel building, which was built in 1918 and resembles, from the outside, a giant red barn.

Nearly 90 years later, the City of Vancouver granted Bastion Development Corp. bonus density for its 24-storey Opsal tower if the company spent about $5 million to restore the Opsal Steel building. That work completed in 2013.

Workers painstakingly dismantled that building, numbering pieces of wood so they could rebuild it at a slightly different location on the site.

Bastion also transferred density from the old wood structure so that its glass tower could be the neighbourhood’s tallest building, said Daren Akinci in 2012, when he was Bastion's marketing co-ordinator.

The Opsal Steel project was what former chief planner for the City of Vancouver, Brent Toderian, said at the time was the most significant of many heritage-restoration projects in the area. He added that the area's Salt building was also very significant.