Rolling the dice on Vegas-style dining

A rendering of Mrkt East, one of the eight restaurants and lounges soon to open inside Parq Vancouver | Image: Parq

Parq Vancouver casino, which is set to open later this month,  offers eight unique restaurants and lounges in one

Vancouver isn’t traditionally known as a high-roller destination. Sure, we have a handful of casinos scattered throughout the city and Greater Vancouver, but these are, for the most part, smaller operations geared mainly to moderate gamblers. The food and beverage programs are just okay, with the notable exception of Sea Harbour at the River Rock, which last year won Best Dim Sum in the Diners’ Choice category of the Chinese Restaurant Awards.

That’s all about to change. Wife-and-husband team Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla (both James Beard Award nominees) are the pair behind the soon-to-open Parq behemoth in Vancouver’s stadium district. In addition to housing the relocated Edgewater Casino, two hotels, a rooftop park and oodles of event and meeting space, the $640-million entertainment destination will contain five restaurants and three lounges.

As the driving forces behind Parq’s food and beverage portfolio, Blau and Canteenwalla are no strangers to this kind of project. It’s thanks to Blau that chefs like Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten were lured to Las Vegas, and why her and Canteenwalla’s own Sin City restaurant empire is a force to be reckoned with.

But, Vancouver is in the middle of a serious staffing shortage when it comes to hospitality jobs. And, with eight different restaurants and eateries scattered throughout the property, it’s no surprise that food and beverage staff account for almost half of the 1,000-plus jobs needed to open Parq.

Where did they get the bodies?

“We came into the project knowing about [the staff shortages],” says Blau. “We’re seeing it across the U.S., in New York, specifically with cooks. We went into this very nervous and apprehensive. We’ve made a lot of restaurant friends over the last five years that we’ve been visiting here, so we wanted to be respectful and not take away an entire staff from a single restaurant,” she continues. “We’ve been aggressive with social media and our job fairs. And we didn’t focus just on downtown Vancouver, but widened to the whole Lower Mainland.”

They also partnered with VCC to train new talent.

“Vancouver Community College has been great,” says Blau. “We worked with the college on a joint-venture training program to do four-week hospitality cohorts.

“Almost all of our executive chefs are from Vancouver and all of the positions have now been filled,” she adds.

So, barring a small amount of construction that still needs to be completed and the training of the staff, which normally takes several weeks, the operation should be ready to open Sept. 29. Now it just remains to be seen how Vancouver, that most terminally casual of cities, will take to the new high-stakes outfit.


Parq Vancouver will also be home to a casino, two hotels, a rooftop park and event and meeting space | PBQ Real Estate Investors

With two restaurants that are arguably on the fine-dining end of the spectrum, it could be seen to be a gamble of a different sort. The Victor is a steak and seafood restaurant that will focus on premium steaks from Alberta, the U.S. and Japan (yes, that means Kobe), alongside locally sourced seafood. 1886 is a Cantonese fine-dining restaurant that will incorporate Szechuan, Hunan and Shanghainese elements. Blau insists, however, that both are still approachable. “The trend we see here is a move away from traditionally stuffy fine dining. But, I think everyone likes to dress up a little on the weekends to go out. The Victor is, to me, a fun and celebratory restaurant. It’s perhaps a bit more finer dining than the other restaurants in the portfolio, but not stuffy or restrictive. We want things to be approachable.”

The other dining experiences include Honey Salt, featuring regional farm-to-table cuisine alongside regional beers, spirits and cocktails; BC Kitchen, offering classic comfort food for both pre- and post-event; the Singapore night market-inspired Mrkt East; the cocktail-forward Centre Bar, which overlooks the gaming floor; the nightlife-friendly D/6 Bar and Lounge, which boasts a fireplace, pool table, and indoor/outdoor sky bar adjacent to the rooftop park; and the Lotus Whiskey and Tea Lounge, a serene space that will serve teas from around the world by day and a selection of whiskey, scotch and bourbon by night.

Part of the emphasis on approachability can be seen in the duo’s noted enthusiasm in working with local growers and producers. Down the road, there are also plans to incorporate on-site herb gardens and potentially develop an off-site farm. An Ocean Wise partnership has yet to be confirmed, but Blau and Canteenwalla are meeting with Ned Bell, executive chef for the Vancouver Aquarium and the Ocean Wise program, in the next week.

Vancouver’s social landscape is changing. We’re growing up as a city and attracting a more international, and well-heeled, clientele. We’ll just have to see if we’re ready for this level of entertainment and hospitality – and if they’re ready for us.

• Anya Levykh is a food, drink and travel writer who covers all things ingestible. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @foodgirlfriday.

Vancouver Westender

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