Gastowners – James Iranzad
Recently coveted as a ‘Style Ambassador’, (This summer keep an eye on city billboards and bus sidings.) you may remember James from Elwoods, Nevermind, Hells Kitchen, Abigail’s Party, Flying Tiger, Wildebeest, and Bufala. James was a driving force behind all of them. Few can argue with the fact, James Iranzad isn’t someone you easily forget.
James and I go back to the Nevermind days, years ago, when we used to affectionately call him…
So naturally, when we sat over lunch for a ‘career in review’, he rolled his eyes when I referred to him as a ‘hospitality alchemist’. But when James is present, everyone eats, everyone drinks, and everyone leaves with a smile.
“We are just really good at hiding our mistakes,” he responded laughing, “we make lots of mistakes, but that’s the thing, we’re not afraid to try. We have pretty good preparation, we have a great team of people, we have good communication and I like to think we have a good vision, one that Vancouver is ready for, the zeitgeist of it all – how we can be relevant and contribute in a really positive way, and it has worked out so far…probably just means we are due to crash and burn, but I really hope not because we have another restaurant opening soon…”
He is referring to what will be opening where Abigail’s Party in Kitsilano stood for the past decade. Without revealing any details for the new venue, he said that although it is time to move on, Abigail’s represents some strong moments of pride, and it had it’s best years when he took it on solo.
But it was shortly after that, when he ventured into Gastown, an entirely new business came his way, “I only had Abigail’s party at the time. It’s a small space, and I am a big guy, so I just got in the way.” He said, “So I would head down to Gastown, that is where the energy was, and where all of my friends were. Josh (The Diamond) and I met and became good friends quickly.”
James said that it didn’t take long before they decided to partner on a venue. They scoured Gastown for a space that was the right fit. But when they found their current location, they liked it so much, they made it fit. Although they initially had a smaller restaurant in mind, no one seemed opposed to simply adding a private dining room and wine bar in the extra area.
When coming up with a concept, they were enthralled by the romance and idea of whole animal butchering – getting back into the old fashioned craft, as well as working directly with local farmers. James said part of their inspiration came from Toronto restaurant The Black Hoof (whom they recently collaborated with for Eat Vancouver).
James remembered reading about it years ago, and thinking it was the coolest, bravest idea for a restaurant. He revisited the idea when Wildebeest was in development, and from there it was just serendipitous, “It was only a huge coincidence that Jesse, who is now the chef there and one of my best friends, who used to be the chef at Abigail’s and the sous chef of the Flying Tiger, but he ended up moving out there and getting a job as chef at The Black Hoof.”
This edgy concept needed the right name and James admitted that a bit more challenging. Then one day he was talking with his youngest son, who wasn’t more then three at the time, when James asked him what his favourite animal was. “He thought about it for half a second and said “Wildebeest” Papa.” James said, smiling as he recalled the moment, “I kind of visualized the word, how it is written with all of it’s “e’s”, and it is a really beautiful word, and has the right swagger to it – I texted it to Josh right away, just that one word an he knew immediately what I meant, and said, ‘that’s the one’. Just to the right of the bar there is a little shrine, two Wildebeests that my kids made for us for opening day.”
Although he has already had a long line of successes, I asked James how it was for him moving into what is considered the new entertainment district of the city, where they were not the only ones on the block who knew how to show their guests a good time. James responded that it is definitely competitive, but it is an amazing community where he has many good friends, and they inspire each other, “It wasn’t until I was working down here that I realized how challenging it is and the level of talent that is required to succeed,” he said, “you can see why off of these guys are really f**king good at what they do, and that elevates our game as well. I have to be as good, or strive to be as good as this restaurant or that restaurant, because that is the standard that has been set and that is what makes me want to be here. Collectively I think we have brought way more attention to Gastown, which is awesome.”
By Dani Kremeniuk
Photos by Aaron Aubrey