A burly guy with a shaved head and tattoo sleeves embraces the slim, pork-pie hatted man who’s just come up the stairs; the two plop down on a couch and begin an animated conversation. Not far away, a young woman, seated on a squishy-comfortable, chromed-framed leather chair, taps away on her laptop. A flash of stainless steel from Owen Walker’s cocktail shaker catches her eye and the two exchange smiles. Beside Mr. Walker, Grant van Gameren pokes at a green sausage with a finger while arranging pea shoots on a white plate with the other hand. Music plays in the background. Spring sunlight streams in through oversized windows. No one here is in a hurry.
Part test-kitchen, part office, part clubhouse, part event space, the relaxed atmosphere in the offices of Mr. van Gameren’s restaurant company, Overbudget Inc., is no accident: the 36-year-old chef wanted to create a domestic-style space that would gather together the different aspects of his quickly-expanding operation.
“Our offices at the restaurants are in electrical rooms, they’re under the bar getting leaked on daily,” he says of Bar Isabel, Bar Raval, Harry’s Charbroiled, PrettyUgly, El Rey and Tennessee Tavern. “They’re not pretty and you start to feel out of touch.”
With two more restaurants set to open before summer, it has been a relief – despite having to remortgage his house to pay for it all – to finally have a place where his partners, chefs, mixologists, wait staff and suppliers can come and go as they please (and since he’d been something of a pinball bouncing between locations, a place where people would know where to find him).
But he didn’t want fluorescent lighting, systems furniture and a reception desk. “We definitely wanted to separate ourselves from the typical restaurant group that goes into Yonge-and-Something [for their] corporate head office with number-crunchers and accountants and HR departments and all that kind of crap,” he says with a wave of the hand. “We didn’t want to do that, we wanted people to come here and hang out, read a cookbook, practise something.”
However, with eight restaurants with eight individual personalities, Mr. van Gameren did set aside over a third of the 2,960-square-foot space – which sits atop the former Bates and Dodds funeral home building at Queen Street West and Strachan Avenue – for administrative purposes. So, at the north end of the third floor space, overlooking Trinity Bellwoods Park, Overbudget Inc. staff handle community management, marketing, graphic design, and photography (he notes that a lot of time and effort is spent on posting fresh content on social media).
The middle of the space is devoted to a large boardroom and the elevator and staircase circulation areas.
The back third contains the large test kitchen and bar area, which is “a little bit Scandinavian, a little bit Japanese,” as executed by Studio Junction. To keep things casual, however, there are easy chairs, rugs, tables and a dining area that can be expanded to host “influencer” or corporate events. To wit, in exchange for future consideration, KitchenAid supplied appliances and Cosentino outfitted the space with Dekton countertops; to show their durability, Mr. van Gameren places a hot pan directly on the stark white surface (made of fused quartz, porcelain and glass).
“I love marble, but it just not realistic, it chips so easily, it stains, and the amount of citrus that these guys do on the bar,” he says, giving a sideways glance to Mr. Walker, who is busily slicing lemons.
To separate a few hundred square feet to the side of the kitchen, Studio Junction designed a custom millwork piece that reads as a super-long Danish sideboard. Behind this are additional, flexible workstations; Mr. van Gameren admits that this area might change, as the amount of square footage he’s got is “ahead of where we are right now” as a company. In fact, it’s already changed once: In earlier drawings, this area was to be dedicated to the production of massive ice blocks using a Clinebell machine, plus the band saw, but “we ended up scrapping that idea,” he laughs. “Allocating all of this square footage to produce ice cubes, and then we have to man it, when we can just buy them … ”
As for filling the space with events and people, Mr. van Gameren has had no trouble in that regard: in the year he’s been here (he got the raw space in September, 2016, but it took six months to complete the renovation) he’s had sit-down dinners, meet-and-greets with new staff (by the end of the year he expects to count 300 employees), sensitivity training, naloxone kit training, private events (but not Super Bowl parties, he laughs), tastings and meetings with suppliers (the day I visited, he was about to welcome his mezcal specialist from Mexico).
Mostly, however, he stresses that the Overbudget offices are “a place where we can bump into each other more often and be creative, because that produces more businesses, more ideas.” This dovetails nicely with his personal ethos, collaboration and a sharing of the wealth; every restaurant he’s opened since his first, The Black Hoof, has been with former employees as partners. “Some business people think I’m stupid or they don’t necessarily agree with it,” Mr. van Gameren offers, “but I like helping people grow – it’s not easy to open a restaurant.”
It’s not easy to create a warm, comfortable space that people don’t want to leave, either, but, “it has been a lot more fulfilling that I originally imagined,” he finishes.