This blog post is by HxBIA Executive Director, Wes Regan, and reflects personal opinion as a long-time resident of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
About ten years ago my wife and I lived in Gastown, it was kind of a different place back then. Sure we had the cobblestone streets and the beautiful heritage architecture, we also had many of the same challenges posed by poverty, addiction and related public health issues (a public health crisis in fact, if you remember), but we also had a small handful of local watering holes and restaurants that we and our neighbours loved.
Back then Characters Taverna was good if you wanted some tasty hummus and pita and Greek salad on the cheap, and fast. Sitar likewise for Indian, still is. Incendios for an easy quick delicious pasta or pizza. The Irish Heather (where I worked at the time) was a great little watering hole, that also happened to have holes in the ceiling where water would come pouring down through. Fast forward a decade and the Irish Heather, now a trend setting Gastropub, is across the street from that old location and Gastown is awash in cafes, restaurants and watering holes (several of which he opened). Way back then though, and just a few blocks away, in what was then an obscure nether-region between downtown and Gastown/Chinatown (part of the colloquial Crosstown), another intrepid entrepreneur opened a restaurant that was well ahead of its time. Andrew Wong of Wild Rice.
The first couple of times that I ate at Wild Rice I was actually served by Andrew who would on occasion tend the bar. The menu expressly honored the traditional fare and availability of veggies and meats found in Chinatown’s various markets and shops. It raised the bar in regards to local, seasonal and organic. With the now surging popularity and interest in local and organic foods Andrew and Wild Rice were ahead of the curve. The cocktail menu was also at the front of the pack industry-wise and the restaurant quickly became a destination.
I’ve been to birthday parties, industry parties, intimate dinners, a quick drink and a snack after work with friends at Wild Rice. I’ve picked up food to go, bought food for catering, and tried to recreate Wild Rice menu items at home. It has been a local business, a local gathering place, and more than that, it has been a local institution for over a decade. And so it is with great respect and appreciation that I extend thanks to Andrew for being a genuine entrepreneur who not only cared to create a space that would be embraced by Vancouverites eager for great food, great drinks and great atmosphere, but one who also honored and cared for the history and culture of Vancouver’s Chinese community, Chinatown, and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Thank you to Wild Rice’s staff for being dedicated, friendly, knowledgeable and skilled. You too were instrumental in this.
As a longtime resident (Living and/or working in Gastown, Chinatown and Strathcona over the past fifteen years) and on behalf of the Hastings Crossing BIA I wish you continued success and fulfillment. Thank you for so many memorable meals and memorable nights at Wild Rice. New Westminster is lucky to have you.