By Sean Moon
For Vancouver restaurateur David Hannay and his business partner Patrick Mercer, everything old has become new again. From opening their original restaurant, Brix, in a 1912 heritage building to the recent merging and rebranding of Brix and its next-door sibling, a stylish cocktail lounge called George, Hannay and Mercer seem to have a gift for breathing new life into old businesses — and neighbourhoods.
When the duo opened Brix in Vancouver’s Yaletown neighbourhood back in 1999, the area was not exactly known as a restaurant hotspot. Even six years later, when Hannay and Mercer made the foray into the cocktail lounge scene with their George property adjacent to Brix, the Yaletown neighbourhood was still trying to find its mojo as a happening dining destination.
This past October, the re-opening of the combined restaurant and bar spaces as a rebranded Brix & Mortar represented the culmination of a long-held dream of Hannay and Mercer to give locals a new dining and cocktail favourite.
Back to the beginning
“This past year has been a transitional one for us,” says Hannay. “After more than a decade we closed down our lounge, George, in September and decided to go back to the beginning. We looked at everything from the ground up to come up with a fully updated mission and vision and indeed a rebrand. Brix and George became Brix & Mortar — one restaurant with two different rooms and two similar, yet subtly different feels.”
Brix & Mortar brings together modern Canadian cuisine, fine wine and creative cocktails in an inviting, sophisticated space to inspire conversation, a concept Hannay feels is central to his philosophy on commercial foodservice and its role in the community.
“We look for products that offer a story for our guest,” says Hannay. “That story most often revolves around quality and place. We certainly strive to support local partnerships because these often give us talking points on both quality and place. Companies like Sky harvest who grow a variety of fresh greens on the rooftops of downtown buildings and deliver them daily on bicycles to local restaurants. When we first opened, selling someone on a local Okanagan wine was nearly always a challenge. Now there is an enormous sense of pride in Vancouverites about this wine industry. The individual stories behind many of these local wineries are now daily discussion in the restaurant.”
Learning the ropes
Hannay’s journey in the Vancouver restaurant industry started at age 16 when he worked as a busboy at a place called Dem Bones. Through his 20s, he honed his restaurant skills managing several Boathouse Restaurants for the Spectra Group, “a good training ground for controls, systems and high volume.” He also found time to study, earning an undergraduate degree at UBC with a major in theatre and a minor in economics.
“How can you get a more perfect fit for this business?” says Hannay. “I always enjoyed the energy of the guest interaction on the floor of a busy room.”
After the Boathouse, Hannay moved back to serving tables at several restaurants, including Joe Forte’s and the Fish House in Stanley Park and also worked in retail at Robert Simpson’s Liberty Wine Merchants in West Vancouver.
“I worked alongside Patrick Mercer at Forte’s from 1996-1999 when the two of us dreamed of opening our own restaurant,” says Hannay. “Wine has also been a big part of my life since working alongside the legendary Mike Moller in my Boathouse days. Patrick and I felt that, in the late 90s, there was a distinct lack of restaurants in the space above full service casual and below high end formal. This was our impetus to believe we could be successful.”
Now married to wife Jennifer with two children who share his interest in the food world, Hannay says one of the biggest challenges of owning a restaurant is managing a staff of 40.
Meeting the challenge
“This business draws in such a huge cross section of society and everyone has their own story. This is one of the greatest strengths of the business but it can be one of its most difficult tests. Many people view a career in the industry as transitional or temporary. Since becoming a father, I think I have had more success in this arena.”
While he credits his family with much of his inspiration and motivation, Hannay says he is also very proud of the fact that his restaurant and bar businesses have had such a positive impact on the local food landscape. He believes that the philosophy he and Mercer share has a lot to do with their success.
“Patrick and I have worked with several catchphrases over the years,” says Hannay. “The two that stick out are: ‘Yes is the answer, what is the question?’ and ‘Our job is your happiness.’ The bottom line in this business is that you won’t be in business if you don’t give your guests a reason to return.
“Our other big belief is ‘under-promise and over-deliver.’ All of these sayings contribute to a culture of exceeding the expectations of our guest. This is what we strive for.”
Sean Moon is the managing editor of Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News.