Interview :: Meet Clinton + Dane of Bestie

Meet Bestie. A friendly little Vancouver sausage parlour inspired my German street food! It’s run by Dane Brown + Clinton McDougall, two of the silliest, friendliest chaps I’ve met so far in Vancouver. (Want proof? Just check out their outtakes reel below of the crowdsourcing campaign they held to open Bestie!)

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Clinton to chat about bratwurst, art, + Vancouver. Check it out ::

1. Where did the idea for Bestie come from?

Dane + I used to work together for a design studio. And we did a lot of traveling for work, and a lot of meeting, and a lot of discussing ‘wouldn’t it be cool if’ ideas + projects. We had a shared currywurst experience, in Los Angeles of all places, where we started talking about how Vancouver could really use currywurst and how we kind of lived in a sausage deprived society over here. It was a little currywurst shop that this lovely couple had opened in LA. So that idea was just a casual conversation that just stuck with us and snowballed. We started doing research to the point where we took the entrepreneurial leap and haven’t looked back.

2. So this idea, is it something you jumped into right away or has it been a longer discussion.

Dane + I are really ideas people and we really love talking about interesting ideas. It doesn’t really matter what it is or where it’s coming from, serious or not, and we had this conversation whilst eating a really good currywurst and were like “Man, we should do currywurst!” And then we started talking about all the things we could do and how great it would be. And that was sort of the casual jest of a conversation and then when we got back from this trip two days later, Dane called me up and said “I keep thinking about this conversation that we had about sausages, do you wanna talk about it some more?” and I said “Yeah, I have been too!” So we went out for a beer and one beer turned into like 7 beers and 10 pages of an outline + a sketch of the business idea. And then we slowly just started doing research. We started looking at butchers and ketchup recipes and riding our bicycles around thinking about where this would go + where it would work. And it kept getting bigger and bigger to the point where we said “You know if we’re ever going to act on any of the ideas that we have this one’s got legs and now’s the time to do it because we’re young + fool hardy enough.” And then I left my job and did a business plan and took an entrepreneurial course and started putting it all together.

Then we found this spot. And that was real, signing the lease! And then we did a crowdfunding campaign.

3. Were you looking in other areas, or was it always Chinatown that you wanted to open up shop?

It was always around here. It was always in this proximity of East Vancouver. I’ve lived around Chinatown for the last seven years that I’ve been in Vancouver, so I’m really familiar with the neighbourhood and we were really excited about doing our idea here because currywurst is already this strange cultural amalgamation. It’s this German thing but it kinda comes from getting ketchup from American soldiers, curry powder from the Brits, German bratwurst, and curry has Indian ties as well. So it’s really this weird cultural amalgamation and what’s better than to put it in Chinatown and add one more layer of ambiguity to it all.

And the thing about Chinatown is we’ve lived and worked around here for some time and recognize the neighbourhood. There’s something happening in Chinatown where there’s a lot of entrepreneurs and startups and young entrepreneurs are attracted to this area for a few reasons. One there’s this historic character to it but there’s also this gritty vitality to it. There’s people on the streets, it has its own rules. And perhaps the biggest thing to is it’s affordable. So you can try something new + take a risk and not lose your shirt in the first month.

4. How did you come up with the name. It’s quite clever!

I’m glad you like it! It took us a long time to come up with the name. We had been looking for inspiration + talking about it in all different corners. One area we were looking for names was in the German/English dictionary, because we’re inspired by German street food. We had all these different name ideas + even graphic design for some of them. Then Dane called me and said “I think I know what it is… Bestie!” And I said “I love it!”

We always wanted to be a “friendly little sausage + beer parlour inspired by German street food.” So, Bestie covers the friendly part – young people’s slang for best friend – but in German it’s a common noun that means “beast” – of which we serve several kinds. But, it’s also a little bit more menacing than that, like a beast you wouldn’t want to run into in the forest. Like Beauty + the Beast, but this menacing, dangerous, dark beast that could kill you. So it’s quite a dark word in German and we really liked that dichotomy between super friendly, youthful, + warm in American and quite dark in German. Plus, we serve several kinds of beast. Also, you know, sausages. It’s bratwurst so our twitter + instagram are @bestiewurst. So it just made sense on all these different levels!

Me :: Awesome! I love that there are all those different levels of meaning to the name, not just the apparent play on words. Cool.

Bestie Vancouver Bestiewurst Clinton and Dane

5. What are each of your roles in the business. Do you each wear a different hat?

Yes! I am Head Busboy and Dane is Vice President of Janitorial.

Me :: Haha!

We both do a bit of everything. So we built the place ourselves with the help of friends + family + really talented architects, Scott + Scott Architects (check out a video of S & S made by former Neatos :: Odette Visual!). And we both have strong ideas about the menu and designing the food from the get go. But neither of us are chef, so we’ve got some really talented people in the kitchen, that we feel super fortunate for. So, we’re involved in all aspects. We’ll open up shop, close shop, we’ll sometimes work lunch service + late night window. Dane does most of the operational stuff and I’ll often deal more hands on with front of house, suppliers, + equipment. We both do the training, we both steer the ship actively together. That’s the great thing about having a business partner, you don’t have to do it all alone!

6. You mentioned you renovated + built the place yourself. I’m curious about your process! What was your process of creating the space?

Cheap! We got introduced to Scott & Scott through a friend. And the reality was we needed an architect to help us get a permit approved. We didn’t have enough money to get a full creative brief, but also, Dane + I, having worked in the design industry, had strong ideas of what we wanted the place to look like, so we really wanted to work with someone who could help us get a permit but also work with us on a scale + our ideas in a nice, modest way. So we had our first meeting with them + started talking about Dieter Rams + Bauhaus + the history of hip hop. So, we were like “this is our guy.” And I can’t say enough good things about working with them.

It was an extremely small budget so we were limited by scope of materials and he drew from this place of Bauhaus meets Alpen house. Modern design in a clean organized manner, but not cold, really warm, like an Alpen house. So there’s a cuckoo clock + spruce wood that’s warm + a copper bar. But, we designed it in a clean, minimal way. A refreshing design. We wanted to add something new to Vancouver restaurant design. Light + bright + fresh.

7. It’s quite amazing what you can do on a limited budget! I read you made your own forks as well.

Yes! We made our own forks as well. A lot of what happened here came out of a necessity of not having a big budget so we had to figure out how to do it on our own. We wanted to make our own pommesgabel (transl. :: “French Fry Fork”) so we had to employ our friends + do it ourselves to make them because we couldn’t just send off + let someone else do it. Even the building of this place we had to do it using simple tools, it couldn’t be too technical.

8. What was your process in creating the menu?

Keep it simple. Focus on one thing :: sausages! And, do that one thing really well. That’s kind of the backbone. Dane + I have this simple menu outlined but we keep it rotating quite fresh + seasonal. We have some regulars who come in for lunch so we like to keep it fresh + rotating but we like to keep it simple so we don’t have to make too many dishes but keep it changing so it’s always fresh!

Sausages are the star. Then, we have all these other things that are super fun + supporting, like sauerkraut, which is super good + super good for you + a traditional German thing. And we get fresh baked pretzels in every morning and we can make a lot of different mustards. So there are lots of things we can do that make sense with our fare but also have fun with it!

We have a lot of talented folk in the kitchen. It’s a simple menu, but it’s always changing. And we have a Head Sausage Man in the kitchen. His name is Colin Johnson and he’s a Godsend and he’s really helped us turn this food into what it is.

9. What’s in the works for you in the near future?

It’s been great so far + we feel really blessed for Bestie to be a success and be going so well. People ask us about franchising, but it’s not really something that we’re interested in because we feel it’s really special and context is really important. A cute little hole-in-the-wall sausage place in Chinatown is really special and we don’t think that would translate if you just planted it anywhere.

But like I said, Dane + I are ideas guys at our core, so we’re always talking about new ideas.

10. I noticed that you collaborate with a bunch of people in the city, like Das Lexicon with Rain City Chronicles. Do you have anything like that coming up?

Yep! We’ve done some collaborations with 33 Acres beer and we’ll be doing a tap takeover with them soon where they’ll have some new beers + they’ll bring them down here and we’ll do a special menu to pair up with them. So that’s one event that’s on the horizon.

We just finished a competition with This Sandwich That Beer, it’s a blog of the same title, where a bunch of different restaurants got paired up with a randomly selected brewery and they created a beer + a sandwich to go together. We got paired up with Todd of RnB Brewing. He made an awesome beer with smoked apple cider. And it was a big competition at Portside Pub and we won first place!

One of the things that Dane + I talked about with this restaurant is that we’re able to exercise our values through design + good food + connecting with people + engaging with music + engaging with different people who are doing really great stuff. Whether it’s food or beverage or storytelling or cultural + arts stuff we just really want to reach out and connect.

11. Is there an event or collaboration that if someone came to you with this idea you’d be really excited to do?

Yeah, it could be wide open! I’d love to be able to get live music in here. There’s a bit of licensing around that. We had record sale here on Sunday. One of the biggest things for us is engaging with the arts. Creative projects. Whether it’s art, design, music.

12. If someone has an idea they want to work with you on, what’s the best way for them to approach you?

Come in for a bratwurst or a rootbeer + chat us up!

13. Are there any upcoming Vancouver events that you’re really excited about?

>> There’s something happening this summer, Brewery + the Beast, so we’re excited about that.

>> Dane is really involved with the record sale, he has a side project called + they’re all about bringing in interesting + rare records.

>> Dane will be going to Detroit to listen to the electronic music festival.

>> I’ve been drinking a lot of cider here at Bestie + I’ll be doing a cider tasting at Sunday School which is wine tasting, you should check it out! It’s a really fun way to do wine + cider tasting.

>> We’re also going to try to commission some public art here in Chinatown.

14. Can you share an interesting story about when you were first starting out? Any mishaps or fun things that happened?

When Dane + I first set out on this project we made an agreement, we shook on it, that we knew it was going to be stressful, crazy things would happen, there would be setbacks + we didn’t really know what we were doing, I mean we’d never opened a restaurant, let alone built one. So, we shook hands and said “no matter what happens let’s have fun and keep our heads up!” So we did! And we really try to keep to that philosophy. We’ve had so many goofy times where things went haywire + we were able to laugh about it because in a couple days we knew we’d figure it out + it wouldn’t matter anymore. There was a ton of different things that happened, but our outlook and philosophy made it better.

So that’s Bestie! If you’re in Vancouver, make sure to head to Columbia + Pender for a tasty wiener.

*** Vancouver Neatos is a weekly series where I interview neat people in Vancouver. If you know of someone doing something neat in Vancouver, email me their deets + I’ll add them to my list.

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