This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Dane Brown, the co-owner of Bestie, a stylish German-themed sausage and beer joint located in Vancouver, British Columbia.
1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Bestie is a friendly little sausage and beer parlour located in the heart of Vancouver's Chinatown. We opened in June 2013 after a successful crowdfunding campaign and six months spent building the restaurant ourselves with the help of friends, family, and the community. We had no previous construction experience so we relied on a lot of "how-to" videos on YouTube.
Inspired by German street food, Bestie serves up a selection of finely crafted sausages, crispy fries, tasty side salads, fresh baked pretzels, and Chinatown's finest currywurst. We work with master butchers and urban farms, whole ingredients, and sustainably raised meats.
We have four curated taps of local craft beer, some odd German bottles, both colours of wine, and a storied selection of schnapps. Not to mention fancy soda pops, home made iced tea, kombucha, and Club-Mate, a German soda with borderline cult status.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
Clinton and I met while working at a design studio here in Vancouver. It was a very creative environment where we entertained many "million dollar ideas" and "wouldn't it be cool" projects. Part of our jobs involved travelling together so we got to share great food experiences from other cities and cultures. We had both been to Germany, and loved the food, but it wasn't until we shared a currywurst in Los Angeles that the idea was sparked to open a sausage and beer joint in Vancouver. Vancouver is such a food city, with so many cultural influences. There is this rise of street food here, a return to craft butchery, and this idea of focusing on doing one thing really, really well. Also we realized that, as North Americans, we live in a sausage deprived society! Through Bestie we are able to exercise our values, whether it's with food, design or connecting with people. These are important and fundamental parts of our lives.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Our customers are varied. There are a lot of startups and other young entrepreneurs scattered around Chinatown who make up our lunchtime regulars. There's also a pretty big art community with lots of studios and galleries. Many of the artists have spent time in Berlin and know what currywurst is. We have some old school Chinese regulars, who at first didn't know what it was all about, but have since come to love our bratwurst.
We also get young families from the surrounding neighbourhoods that come in for early dinners and weekend brunch. When everything on the menu is under $10, you become a staple for folks wanting an affordable night out. Oh yeah, we're right close to the stadiums in Vancouver, so we often get groups of Southsiders in before and after Whitecaps games. Our steins of craft beer cost less than a plastic cup of macro beer from the stadium.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
Before we opened, we thought our staff would consist of Clinton, myself, and a handful of part-time employees. We currently have 16 employees.
At first we were both on the floor, serving and figuring things out for 10 to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Thankfully that's not the case any more. We both have other creative interests and we knew Bestie wasn't going to be the only thing we do for the next 50 years. The goal was always to work really hard and then bring smart people on board to help us.
We have an incredibly solid staff who we love and the restaurant is able to run smoothly without us. I'm still in an average of 5 days a week with my time split between serving customers and administration. Clinton just had a baby in July and he was able to take some time off to figure out the whole dad thing. We both have our strong suits, but contribute to most areas collaboratively.
5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
We're so grateful that people are into what we're doing at Bestie. Especially when, less than two years ago, we were having sleepless nights – I was, Clinton not so much as he's an eternal optimist – while trying to put the business together and making plans to become plumbers if the restaurant wasn't successful.
I feel that the key element of our success has been treating our employees, suppliers, and customers the way we would want to be treated. It sounds simple but lots of people don't do it and, regardless of what you want to do or achieve in life, it all comes down to people. Work really hard and be good to people. In our experience, that alone will get you further than almost anything else.
We also do our best not to let ourselves get stressed out. I like to compare running a restaurant to surfing a wave of hilarious problems, big and small, that have to be dealt with. There are new ones every day and as long as you're successful the list of things that needs to be done will never end, so why get stressed out? Whenever things get hectic we like to remind ourselves that we're selling sausage, not performing brain surgery, and that having a good time was part of the business plan.