It was the bar that finally made Heather Rhodes’ dream feel real.
Five years ago, Rhodes and one of her colleagues at the Browns Restaurant Group, chef Geoff Morrison, first started knocking around the idea of striking out on their own. In April, their idea for a fun brunch establishment will be realized at the corner of Clarke and Moody streets in Port Moody.
That is, if nothing else goes wrong.
Because since Rhodes, Morrison and the other members of their team that includes Tyler Schuster and Rhodes’ husband, Steve, first started formulating their vision for the Hard Bean Brunch Co., pretty much everything that could go off the rails has. There’s been construction delays, supply chain challenges and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic that’s exacted a particularly heavy toll on the restaurant industry.
According to Restaurants Canada, the global health crisis has resulted in the closure of more than 10,000 restaurants in the country, costing about 384,000 jobs.
But, said Rhodes, the grim landscape has only strengthened their resolve to build their brand and breathe life into their concept for a restaurant that creates a fun dining experience for families while still being sophisticated enough for young Millennials to enjoy a colourful cocktail in the evening.
It was pancakes that launched their journey.
Rhodes said whenever her family went out for dinner, their daughters inevitably wanted to order pancakes. But other than a couple of renowned chain restaurants, their options to satisfy that request were limited.
“There was a gap there,” Rhodes said. “We want to put a brunch spin on classic fare.”
Morrison set to work developing the menu.
“It has to work all day,” he said of the challenge to concoct dishes that will be as appetizing at 5 p.m. as they were at 11 a.m.
The founding partners originally had their eye on a location in Langley. But when that fell through, they targeted Port Moody.
Rhodes said she was attracted to the growing city’s urban vibe as well as its support for independent businesses.
“There’s no real chains here,” she said.
A space on the ground floor of a new condo building being constructed at Clarke and Moody proved the perfect fit, just off the city’s main thoroughfare, close to the Moody Centre SkyTrain station and a short walk from Brewer’s Row for diners looking for a meal before sampling flights of craft beer.
That’s when the problems started.
Construction delays brought on by shortages of building materials and the tradesmen to put them together pushed the restaurant’s planned opening from 2020 to 2021 to this spring. Rhodes and Morrison only got the keys to the space last November.
In the interim, the COVID-19 pandemic was turning their industry upside down.
But rather than letting those challenges defeat them, Rhodes said they approached them as opportunities.
They sharpened their branding and pushed it out on social media, tapping into networks of followers for other local businesses active on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. As Morrison perfected dishes with help from the crews that work for Steve Rhodes’ construction company who served as taste testers, photos were posted to build anticipation.
Still, said Heather Rhodes, with the uncertainty of their project the team had to maintain a careful balance to not build hopes up too high and alienate their market.
“The false starts were discouraging,” she said.
But they did buy time for the restaurateurs to learn how to cope with the reality they might be opening while the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on people’s social interactions and comfort level for communing in crowded public spaces.
Rhodes said their early decision to use QR codes on their menus was affirmed when health and safety measures breathed new life into the curious symbols of pixellated squares that can be scanned by a mobile device to link to online information. As well, they’re building out the restaurant’s kitchen to accommodate the surge in interest for take-out and home delivery orders. And hygiene considerations are being integrated into the design and operational systems.
“It’s about understanding your operation,” Rhodes said. “You have to do the right things.”
With the restaurant’s opening just months away, the interior is still just a maze of metal studs, portable light stands and work tables strewn with blueprints.
But with the square bar in place, Rhodes said she can begin seeing in her mind’s eye the diners sitting in the restaurant’s 140 seats.
“We’re at the point we want to get open,” Rhodes said.