Today marks the opening of Tap and Barrel’s new flagship location at the Lower Lonsdale Shipyards. A few months ago we sat down with the owner and proprietor of the TAP empire, Daniel Frankel, for an inside scoop on the success of his growing brand.
It’s a sunny day in March as we sit down with Daniel on stone stairs a few steps in front of the structure that’s slowly but surely being puzzle-pieced together. Hyperlocal, natural and innovative; a description for the new location as well as a description of Daniel himself.
Wearing jeans and a coat, Daniel might not seem like your typical restauranteur, particularly not when it comes to creating mega-restaurants inside heritage buildings in the heart of downtown North Vancouver.
This is the first part of a four-part interview with Daniel Frankel. Before we get into the specifics of the new shipyards Tap & Barrel location, we wanted to learn more about the man himself.
Kelvin: Describe the path you took to get here, to this spot, today. Everything that contributed to opening the new Tap & Barrel.
Daniel Frankel: I didn’t really have a plan when I started in the restaurant business. I was actually a failed filmmaker and wasn’t making any money at that job. In 2001 I saw a request for a proposal in the newspaper for a small coffee shop and I got it. That was great, there was finally some cash flow which I hadn’t seen yet at that point. It was a nice taste of operating a business.
After that I took a chance on a couple different concepts. The problem was that while I really enjoyed creating concepts, which was the artist in me speaking out, I’m not really a businessman. I’m an entrepreneur, sure, but there’s a difference between an entrepreneur and a CEO – I’ve never really been a CEO. You have to be pretty damned disciplined and very committed to a process-driven industry.
That took me a really long time to get on board with which is unfortunate because it would have helped me grow a lot faster and connect with my team. Ultimately we built different kinds of concepts and I had a lot of fun doing the artistic side of things like putting together the designs, arranging the décor and building the concepts. I ended up opening The Mill, opened the Pirate Pub, I ran Prospect Point for awhile and I owned the Stanley Park Pavilion and Stanley Park Grill. I also did a bunch of gift shops and random things.
So what started as a coffee shop turned into a decade of trial by fire?
Pretty much. It was difficult at times. At one point about four years ago I became really frustrated at the lack of efficiency and lack of organization. I wanted to stop that trend, we were growing in size and we had a lot of people in the organization and we needed to find a better way of doing things.
So I actually just stopped everything to put together a list of what I wanted for the foreseeable future, the next 10 or 20 years or so. I wrote out exactly what success would look like for all of us.
Which is the creative part of you contributing to the business side, right? Would you do things differently if you started all over again today?
Right, you could say that. If I was to do it all again, I would design my life right now and really live by that design. We control our destinies and at some point we have to stop and say, ok, if I live by my design, then I’m the true master architect.
I can’t let go of the brand because that’s where I see my value – and that was the other realization – what am I good at and what am I bad at? At one point I thought I needed to be honest with myself and remember I’m just not good at everything, so why am I trying to do everything?
What are you good at?
I’m good at real estate and brand development. I know what locations work for our brand. I’m good at brand development because I live it and breathe it every day. The brand doesn’t stop with Tap & Barrel, the brand starts at home; the way we eat at home, the way we buy at home – you have to live the brand.
So I put everything that was important to me in a bucket, well, really it was a piece of paper, but let’s just call it a bucket. And in that bucket the undeniable elements became instantly so obvious to me: local and sustainable. I love local craft beers, local BC wine and the unending value of local art and pieces being created by the amazing people who live here.
Everything we need to live and enjoy ourselves is right here, right?
Absolutely. One of my mentors is Anthony Von Mandl. The entire wine scene in the Okanagan and in BC in general owes a lot of credit to Anthony. He owns Mission Hill Winery, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Stanley Park Brewery and he has mentored me for the last 12 years or so. I’ve always been so impressed with his ideas, he’s a visionary and a lot of that inspiration rubs off on me. His influence taught me ‘stewardship for excellence’; for Anthony, everything had to be done in an incredibly excellent manner. He would talk to me about the fabric of an umbrella or the research he did on the fabric. “It’s the best fabric in the world,” he’d say. “I went to Vienna, I went to Germany, and the stitch count on this umbrella’s fabric is the best, they use this UV process” and so on.
Well, really, it was a piece of paper, but let’s just call it bucket. And in that bucket the undeniable elements became instantly so obvious to me: local and sustainable.
– Daniel Frankel
Every single thing was details, details, details. I’ve always been blown away by how dedicated he is to the details and the excellence behind everything.
The new Tap & Barrel has been in construction for four years now? That’s a long road, describe the feelings you”re having as you near opening night.
We won the tender on this at the beginning of the summer in 2014. I spotted this site four years ago, at the end of 2011, and I had contacted the city and no one knew what was going on with the building. It wasn’t until a year ago that I got a call that this was coming up for public tender, and I jumped on it right away.
We literally pulled our team off of everything and we just started working as hard as we could studying and reading everything we could get on our hands on pertaining to the shipyards.
Wait, you had to hit the library to prepare for this project?
Oh yes. It goes back to the bucket – local and sustainable. We needed to know everything about the shipyards and the history or else we wouldn’t do this project justice. We did our homework and the city believes in our sustainability program and the fact we are a local company. We’re not a big box chain and that probably helped us secure the tender. Really, I just believe they could tell how much we cared about the history of the site and the location and it merged very well with our brand.
It’s a very transparent world today, right? Authenticity is everything.
Gone are the days where you can just put a sign in the front of your shop that says “world famous this, world famous that, the world’s best fish and chips”. Gone are those ‘I’m going to fool you’ days. You want to be understated, we very much believe in humility and humbleness. You want to be quiet and just surprise people by having great service, great products and unquestionable authenticity.
And with that, Daniel’s journey comes full circle. From humble beginnings running a coffee shop to opening up an epic new restaurant, Daniel discovered that returning to his roots and cementing his own core beliefs with the man in the mirror was the strongest way to win the right to build his passion right here at home.
Authenticity is impossible to fake. For Daniel Frankel, he doesn’t even have to try any more.
Next time: Let The Walls Speak, The Local Flavour of the new Tap & Barrel
Below: image gallery of the under-construction Shipyards Tap & Barrel