Market a culinary 'hot spot'

Two new eateries add to foodie buzz at River Market

Southern-style barbecue and classic burgers are coming to the River Market this spring.

Wally's Burgers and the Re-Up BBQ are joining an already delicious list of eateries that have found a home at the market, under the leadership of director Mark Shieh, a man who literally believes that food can transform a community.

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"If I were to do a PhD, this would be my thesis: food revitalization," Shieh says. "I think in the '80s, there was a lot discussion, a lot of progress that was about arts-led revitalization. You would go into merchant areas using arts as a catalyst for neighbourhood change, and I think the really exciting thing is now there is a bubbling up of a food-led revitalization in real estate. I think Gastown is a great example.

"If there's great food, nothing's going to stop you from getting there," he says.

Wally's Burgers, once a drive-in burger joint on Kingsway, and Re-Up BBQ are expected to open in May.

Wally's will have 19 burgers on its menu, including the classic chuckwagon and the ultimate meat indulgence, the beef boy, a burger topped with a wiener.

The Re-Up BBQ already has food carts in Vancouver and had been serving brunch from a cart at the market. The new River Market location will have a lunch counter with a full barbecue menu, including pulled pork, beef ribs, beef brisket, buttermilk biscuits, country gravy and homemade freshfruit sodas.

Wally's and Re-Up join a fruitful list of food vendors that have found a home at the market.

The inspiration for Shieh's River Market comes from the Ferry Building in San Francisco. It's an indoor market with an outdoor feel, where the shops almost spill out into one another. Shieh took over the former Quay market in 2008, yet, somehow, through the global recession and lending squeeze, he has managed to hold onto his ideals - even saying "No" when a national ice cream chain wanted to rent a space.

"We banned the word 'food court' from our project," Shieh says. "To me that often cheapens the food experience."

New Westminster Farmers Market general manager Jen Arbo admires Shieh's vision for the market.

"He's fascinating, and he has taken some lumps over the course of River Market's transformation because some people don't really understand his vision," she says. "All they see is empty spaces, and they get mad because they are comparing it to the Quay and forgetting about the problems the old Quay may have had.

"Mark is also willing to think creatively to make it work," she says. "(The restaurant) Wild Rice is a great example, and the Re-Up BBQ is another great example."

Re-Up BBQ created a "founders' crew," where they ask people to invest $500 to help fund the building of their restaurant. Arbo and her husband are investors.

For their investment, they get 10 pounds of bacon every year and an invite to Re-Up's annual barbecue party.

Re-Up owner Michael Kaisaris says so far they've had 25 founders' crew investments, which adds up to $12,500.

"That's a lot of money," he says. "We've paid our architects, our engineers, our deposit on the lease and some other things with it, so it's a big deal."

Shieh was one of the reasons they chose to open at the Market, says Kaisaris.

"Mark is an amazing guy," says Kaisaris, who, along with his wife, recently bought a house in New Westminster.

Kaisaris admits not everyone has been happy about the market's evolution under Shieh.

"It's funny though, like some of the people, the elderly sort of people who live down Quayside, just hate him," Kaisaris says. "I think because he closed their market for years. - They felt an attachment to all of the little vendors down there, and he took them all away in one fell swoop."

Kaisaris also acknowledges the market's tumultuous history. The former New Westminster Quay opened to a lot of buzz in the late '80s, but eventually visitors dwindled and vendors slipped away.

"We've definitely thought about the market's history. It's sordid and gloomy. That wasn't just the story of the market. That was the story of New Westminster," Kaisaris says. "We see a lot of positive change coming to New Westminster's downtown. There's a big demographic shift, there's lots of money being invested in development. New Westminster is adding twice as many new residents per square mile than any other municipality in the GVRD, and most of those people are young and most of those people are relatively hip.

"We feel like the story of New Westminster is the story of the market, so now New Westminster is on a really big upswing and becoming a much more interesting place overall, and the market is too."

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