Rainer and Helen Daniels’ tour de force in the City of the Arts has seen many ups and downs over the past 30 years.
But now the Port Moody couple feel they’re on firm footing having landed in a business that’s not for the faint-hearted.
Four years ago, after Helen quit her job as executive director of ArtsConnect, the pair decided to open up an eatery, called Gallery Bistro, in one of their three Clarke Street buildings in Moody Centre.
It was a big risk, Helen remembered, as neither she nor Rainer had any experience in the hospitality industry. “We came into this cold,” Rainer said. “The building was off the main drag so we worried.”
They sunk a significant amount of resources into their 900-sq. ft. commercial unit, expanding the kitchen and opening the space up to accommodate local acts.
Like their next door tenants, they wanted to keep the creative vibe in their properties.
Using Helen’s extensive connections within the arts community, the couple invited visual artists and musicians in to showcase their talents because “it’s pretty tough to make it in the arts,” said Rainer, who is currently exhibiting a retrospective at Gallery Bistro.
A week before their first gig, Rainer used the handyman skills he had acquired from maintaining their assets to construct a small stage for the Gabriel Palatchi Trio, a Latin jazz band from Argentina.
Besides their new business, they also kept busy in the community: They took part in Art in the Trees and brought in ArtWalk pieces, for example.
As well, Helen continued her volunteer work on civic committees.
By 2014, the Gallery Bistro had gained a reputation among local artists. Coquitlam music teacher Gabriole Sinclaire had gigs and retired Riverside secondary art teacher Kelly Selden hosted her largest-ever photographic art display there.
Port Moody jazz duo Kristian Alexandrov and Shannon Gaye also made appearances while Tracy Riddell opened her art project, Hands the Shape our Community. The Daniels also brought in emerging artists and graduates from Emily Carr University of Art + Design, science fiction artwork, “pop-up” art demos and acoustic gypsy jazz, which is now served up for an audience once a month.
With the help of their friends Gord Hembruff and and Craig Townsend, they also introduced a Monday night jam session. And singer-songwriter Zoey Wren and pianist Leo Bae teamed up for a new lunchtime jazz series on Thursdays (the acts now rotate).
Last September, the Daniels put on a mini world beat/roots fest featuring the sounds of the Devon Wells Trio (appalachian/bluegrass); Jocelyn Pettit and Band (celtic); Zimbamoto Trio (African); and Mohamed Assani with Amargjeet Singh (Indian).
The couple also put an emphasis on literature, hosting readings and books signings from such new local writers as Bryan Candy (Jim’s Course) and Glynis Whiting (A Nose for Death).
That led to Writers In Our Midst, a series featuring scribes and performing artists from the Tri-Cities and New Westminster.
This summer, Alberta pianist Terry Jorden had a sold-out show at Gallery Bistro; a Mexican father and daughter also exhibited their art.
The intimate space has also become a hot spot for non-profit groups, too: Creative People Talking — started by Rose Kapp — meets four times a month; there are also monthly sessions for a wine club with John Gerum, the Soup Sisters and Green Drinks.
Soon, an open mic night will begin. “It’s really becoming a happening place,” said Helen, an Edmonton native who moved to the west coast three decades ago and met her future husband while working for the federal government.
With new development and shops rising around Gallery Bistro, the foot traffic is increasing. Helen said newcomers to the Tri-Cities are checking them out. Weekday commuters are also stopping by on the weekends. And, early next year, they’ll also have the SkyTrain flow across the street.
Rainer, a Centennial secondary grad who makes the bread and pies, said Gallery Bistro has been “a labour of love.”
Snce they don’t have to pay rent, they’ve just managed to stay in the black, Helen said.
Asked about their long-term goal, both shake their heads. “We don’t know,” Rainer said. “It’s an organic thing. It grows the way it wants.”
“We have been through a lot of hard work,” Helen added, “but it’s paying off and we’re able to enjoy it. At last.”
• Gallery Bistro (2411 Clarke St., Port Moody) is open Monday 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. and Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Visit gallerybistroportmoody.com.