Working nine to dine
Eateries from San Francisco to Vancouver are offering space to entrepreneurs
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 thestar.com/vancouver
“ALL WE’RE DOING IS REPURPOSING SPACE THAT’S SITTING THERE IDLE.”
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.