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The Birds & The Beets logo (bottom right) can be seen poking through as patrons enter Bar Tartare. Photo: Raxana Sunthareswaran

Vancouver eateries share space and save money

The Birds & The Beets transitions from a daytime café to a vibrant evening wine bar, Bar Tartare, showcasing the power of collaboration and innovation in shared spaces.

By Raxana Sunthareswaran , in City , on May 5, 2024

A couple of businesses in Vancouver’s Gastown are pioneering an innovative way for both of them to thrive — share a single space.

The Birds & The Beets functions as a cafe from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. At night, the space undergoes a small yet effective transition. By evening, Bar Tartare, a natural-wine bar owned by Lindsay Otto, takes centre stage. 

“It’s been really great for patrons of both businesses. So I’m really grateful to have our partners and grateful for the collaborative model,” says Matthew Senecal-Junkeer, part owner of The Birds & The Beets. 

Matthew Senecal-Junkeer crafting drinks at The Birds & The Beets. Photo: Raxana Sunthareswaran

 Senecal-Junkeer says he was motivated to share the location because he felt guilty for having a large back space unused at night. He noticed the back section was sitting empty after his café closed. Figuring it made financial sense, he decided to rent it out, sparking a whole new approach to his business. 

“So for the first year that we had the business our doors were closed at night during a time when there were a lot of people around and we had an empty space that I think was pretty conducive to evening,” said Senecal-Junkeer. 

“So I thought, Why not find someone who was keen to open their own space?’ We could find somebody who didn’t have the capital that it takes to open their own spot and collaborate on the rent. All the fixed costs were split between two businesses and two brands that had their own sort of unique identities and customers.” 

Senecal-Junkeer says the shared model is financially rewarding and helps bring a unique twist to the neighbourhood.

With their collaboration, rent and utilities are shared equitably based on hours of operation. Bar Tartare is the second bar to rent out Birds & The Beets backspace, after the closure of Juice Bar in late September.     

With higher rent increases post-COVID, the shared collaborative model helps make the most out of the space while addressing the financial hurdle. 

“We sort of rely on the shared space for rent also because we now pay more than double from when we first opened,” said Senecal-Junkeer. 

But Ian Tostenson, CEO of British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservice Association, warns new businesses of the pitfalls of shared collaborative spaces. 

“To stay true to your brand and true to all the things that we’re faced with right now in the industry, with costs and labour shortages and government regulation and bureaucracy, it’s often very difficult to share your space,”  said Tostenson.

New businesses navigate the challenges of shared spaces 

As with most shared living spaces, sharing commercial spaces can also pose some issues. 

Dear Gus—a snack bar in the Mount Pleasant area—finds itself navigating the dynamics of a shared collaborative space with Cowdog Coffee. 

Dear Gus operates from Tuesday to Saturday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Recognizing the empty daytime hours, Cowdog Coffee stepped in to utilize the space on Sunday and Monday mornings. The cafe operators agreed to operate only two days a week to ensure no disruption to Dear Gus’ dinner service. 

“We’ve kind of had to change the way the collaboration was structured just since we’ve opened because we didn’t anticipate being as busy,” said Rachel Lee, owner of Dear Gus. She said that they’re playing it by ear, evaluating how well the shared business model works for both parties as they move forward.

Cowdog sign in front of Dear Gus on Sunday morning. Photo: Raxana Sunthareswaran

Lee says that their early success has led to them needing more hours in the day to do prep, resulting in a change in Cowdog’s operational days. 

“Since we’ve been so busy, we’ve had our cooks come in earlier, which kind of interferes with their timing. So we had to switch to having them only come in when we’re fully closed,” said Lee. 

Cowdog Coffee has cultivated a growing audience on social media, resulting in long morning lines out the door that they boast about on their feeds. 

“I think they were anticipating having a couple more days since they’re also super busy too. And so they want to be open for longer hours. But that just didn’t work on our open days,” said Lee, addressing operational boundaries.  

Lee says despite some challenges  the collaboration is a success.

“I think it is definitely beneficial for both of us. I thought it was a great idea and a good business opportunity to make some extra revenue while we were closed.”