The Save On Meats diner, at the heart of Gastown, is undergoing a major renovation under the auspices of new owner – residential and commercial developer, Anthem Properties.
But Mark Brand, one of the city's highest profile entrepreneurs, isn't going anywhere. Not only will his restaurant, kitchen and multiple non-profit operations stay intact, but he's crediting Anthem with saving the day.
"It's a game changer," Mr. Brand said, seated at the diner on Thursday. "It's going to save this space and save this business overall.
"I sat with their CEO Eric [Carlson] and he was like, 'We love what you do. We love the neighbourhood. I want to make an impact. How can we help?' So I pitched them what I was hoping they would do, and they were like, 'OK, we need to be able to finance this thing.' And we batted around a lot of ideas until it stuck."
Mr. Brand, who was the star of reality TV show Gastown Gamble, which was shot at the diner, said he brokered a deal with the new owners that will slash his rent by two-thirds as part of a five-year locked-in agreement. As part of the deal, he'll reduce his kitchen operation to the ground floor only, where he'll reduce the butcher shop and increase the diner and kitchen. Anthem will take over the remaining upper three stories of the property at 43 W. Hastings St., which will potentially be used as office space.
"This is our third building that we acquired in the area, and our CEO Eric has always had a soft spot for it, being such an iconic building," Anthem's VP of Investments and Communcations, Alexa Baughen said. "We were really excited to have this partnership with Mark and to move forward and help him out."
Mr. Brand is one of Gastown's major players, with nine businesses under his belt, including popular restaurants Boneta, the Diamond, Sea Monstr Sushi and the new Portside Pub. He also has major non-profit interests, such as a program to train disadvantaged youth in the kitchen and a popular meal-for-a-token program.
He says he's personally in debt to the tune of about $1-million, but he has no plans to stop expansion. He is partnering with businesses in Toronto, where he plans to replicate his uncommon model of leveraging non-profit interests with profitable businesses.
Anthem also owns office buildings at 425 Carrall and 190 Alexander. The company has been in the news recently because of its five-tower residential mixed-use project, Station Square, located adjacent to Metrotown in Burnaby, B.C.
The purchase of the Save On Meats building was a low-key negotiation, Ms. Baughen said.
"This is a private transaction. It was handled under the radar. Mark and I literally got together and hammered something out for the lease. And the acquisition was handled on the back of a paper napkin type of thing," Ms. Baughen said. "We went into this always wanting to make it work for Mark. He's a big part of Save On Meats, and you have to keep that brand and history going. It's so ingrained in our city.
"This is all subject to city approvals. We're going through the process right now."
Mr. Carlson was out of the country and not available for comment.