Work­ing nine to dine

Eater­ies from San Fran­cisco to Van­cou­ver are of­fer­ing space to en­trepreneurs

StarMetro Vancouver - - FRONT PAGE - JENNY PENG

Restau­rants turned co-work­ing spa­ces have spread from San Fran­cisco to New York, and the trend is ex­cit­ing tech work­ers and “solo­preneurs” in Van­cou­ver, too.

For Ron Oliver, owner of Mamie Tay­lor’s lo­cated in Van­cou­ver’s Chi­na­town, the idea of turn­ing his restau­rant into a cowork­ing space dur­ing the day, when it’s closed un­til din­ner­time ser­vice, was worth ex­plor­ing be­cause of how ex­pen­sive it is to op­er­ate in the city.

“When rents are ex­tremely high as they are in San Fran­cisco, Van­cou­ver and New York, they’re sort of a way for restau­rants to have peo­ple in them and to gen­er­ate a lit­tle bit of a rev­enue when oth­er­wise they’d be closed,” Oliver said.

Those in the restau­rant and food in­dus­try of­ten feel the fi­nan­cial squeeze, as small profit mar­gins rang­ing from 3 to 4 per cent be­fore taxes are the norm. Plus, prop­erty taxes have gone up by 42 per cent be­tween 2006 to 2016.

Mamie Tay­lor’s — a restau­rant that serves Amer­i­can-style meals like fried chicken and short ribs — is one of three restau­rants that have opened their doors to users of Freespace, a com­pany cur­rently con­duct­ing a pilot project to test the busi­ness model.

Oliver said the com­bi­na­tion of a labour short­age and a lack of busi­ness dur­ing the day means it makes more fi­nan­cial sense to close dur­ing the morn­ing and af­ter­noon and open from 5 p.m. for din­ner.

“There’s not a lot of lunch busi­ness in Chi­na­town for a restau­rant such as mine.

“If I was sell­ing $5 noo­dle bowls, it might be a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. But to op­er­ate at the level that we do, there just isn’t the

busi­ness for us to con­sider open­ing for lunch.”

Man­gos Lounge in Yale­town and The El­lis in Kit­si­lano are also part of the “net­work” of Freespace lo­ca­tions.

One fre­quent user is solo­preneur Lucas Gaudette, who has used all three lo­ca­tions. For 15 years, he’s worked in cafés do­ing web de­vel­op­ment and fine art on his com­puter. Work­ing from home is not an op­tion for Gaudette, as there’s a “bil­lion dis­trac­tions.”

“I’m to­tally ADD when it comes to be­ing in one place and hav­ing some­thing too much the same all the time,” he said.

“I really need to mix it up and keep things in­ter­est­ing so I stay en­gaged.”

Hav­ing used Freespace for a month, he said co-work­ing in a restau­rant means he doesn’t need to face some of the “eti­quette” is­sues present in cafés.

“You don’t want to be in­con­sid­er­ate by work­ing in a place too long with­out or­der­ing more food or cof­fee or what­not,” Gaudette said. Hav­ing to worry about that is “a con­stant dis­trac­tion.”

James Komenda, founder of Freespace, said there are hun­dreds of users cur­rently regis­tered, and an undis­closed per­cent­age are turn­ing into paid mem­bers.

At Mamie Tay­lor’s, the num­ber of work­ers can vary from five to 10 per day.

The El­lis, Freespace’s first lo­ca­tion when it launched Aug. 1, can have 10 to 20 peo­ple a day: mostly free­lancers, peo­ple who work re­motely, small teams and star­tups.

“We don’t have the over­head as­so­ci­ated with the tra­di­tional co-work­ing space and we can pass along those sav­ings to our cus­tomers,” said Komenda.

As a re­sult, Komenda said, mem­ber­ship fees are $50 a month com­pared to the sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars re­quired for con­ven­tional co-work­ing spa­ces.

Other than the three restau­rant lo­ca­tions, he said, there are five oth­ers in­ter­ested in host­ing work­ers.

“All of the lo­ca­tions we’re talk­ing to think this is a creative so­lu­tion be­cause all we’re do­ing is re­pur­pos­ing space that’s sit­ting there idle and not be­ing uti­lized to its full ca­pac­ity.” Read about big chal­lenges of the con­cept at thes­­cou­ver


James Komenda, founder of Freespace


Mamie Tay­lor’s in Chi­na­town, Man­gos Lounge in Yale­town and The El­lis in Kit­si­lano are all on Freespace, which lists restau­rants avail­able as workspaces dur­ing the day.

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