Warehouse 1923 restaurant to open at old Vancouver Red Lion this summer

The owner of Beaches is planning a throwback concept for the space

By Brooks Johnson, Columbian Business Reporter

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It won’t be long before you start hearing this phrase: “Hey, let’s go down to the warehouse for dinner.”

Warehouse 1923, the new restaurant planned for the old Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay on the waterfront, is already making itself at home ahead of a planned June opening.

“They’ll recognize the ballroom, but not the restaurant,” owner Mark Matthias said Friday as he stood inside the stripped-down 90-year-old warehouse that is at the heart of the Port of Vancouver’s plans for its Terminal One project. “My goal is to put it back into a warehouse look.”

After signing a lease with the port this week, Matthias got right to work installing his vision for a throwback concept and regionally inspired menu. Though the former Red Lion’s nautical themes are coming down, he plans to repurpose as many original pieces as possible.

“To me, this is just an iconic space,” said Matthias, who owns another popular Vancouver waterfront restaurant, Beaches.

The menu will range from seafood to 24-hour smoked brisket to fry-bread street tacos and a consistently changing lineup of local fare. The bar, which won’t look quite like old regulars will remember, will be stocked with local beer and wine and creative cocktails.

“It’s that whole craft, regional mentality,” Matthias said. “Our goal is for a real shared dining experience.”

Though he wouldn’t divulge how much he’s investing in the new restaurant, he said he plans to employ about 75 people to start.

The name of the restaurant, by the way, comes from its place on the waterfront’s history.

“It was 1923 when they decided to build the terminal we’re on,” Matthias said during a walk through the building.

The Red Lion’s restaurant closed in October after decades in business, but the blow to the nascent waterfront scene was short-lived. The opening of Warehouse 1923 this summer marks another stride for the waterfront and downtown Vancouver overall, said one of its biggest fans.

“It is important that familiar brands such as his seize new opportunities as our downtown footprint grows to include the waterfront,” said Lee Rafferty, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association. “Good food is often the way that visitors and investors ‘taste’ a city center. Mark is tops at creating a fabulous experience.”

Rafferty pointed out the new venture adds to a new wood-fired pizza shop on Sixth Street as well as a new Mighty Bowl location and Sushi Mo. Spokane-based Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar is also opening a location on the private downtown waterfront project downstream of the Port of Vancouver’s efforts.

“We are becoming a very option-rich city,” Rafferty said.

Beyond the restaurant, Matthias is also reopening the ballroom, banquet space and patio for public events in the old hotel. From the looks of it, not much work is needed.

“That is pretty much turnkey,” he said, adding that the space could be ready by May. “We already have a few events booked.”

Vancouver is in need of large banquet space, said Kim Bennett, CEO of Visit Vancouver USA.

“A lot of our larger banquet spaces are tied to usage of hotel rooms,” she said. “To have one that is freestanding, just banquet space to accommodate a large group, would be a huge advantage.”

The quick turnaround comes just as the whole project has progressed very quickly, Matthias said. He’s been in talks with the port for a little more than two months. But the concept for the restaurant has been in the works for over a year.

“Working with the port, we both wanted the same things,” Matthias said. “We wanted it open quickly.”

His lease with the port lasts three years with an option to extend it another year. After that it will go month to month, when some big changes could be in store.

Eventually, much of the old Red Lion will be torn down to the original pier and warehouse structure. Using as much of the original structure as possible, the port then plans to build an open market-type building on the pier.

Matthias says his restaurant will have a place there.

“We may have to move to another location then move back in, but it will work out,” he said.

Port of Vancouver spokeswoman Abbi Russell said Matthias is “committed to the long-term vision we have, which is wonderful.”

The port intends to submit its Terminal One master plan to the city this year to solidify its goals, which include commercial and residential projects on its 10 acres on Columbia Way. The port is also in discussions with several companies to get a new hotel built.

Clark College officials said earlier in the week that they had considered using the former Red Lion kitchen as a temporary home for their culinary arts program but had decided against that idea. However, Kevin Witte, a vice president in the college’s Economic & Community Development program, said his program has struck an agreement with the port that allows for food service vendors at Terminal One to offer training to the students. Witte said he has already had a preliminary conversation with Matthias about using student trainees at his new restaurant.

With everything changing at the waterfront, Warehouse 1923 remains planted in its heritage. That much was clear as Matthias stood on the chipboard floor Friday as the sun bounced off the Columbia River and through the old warehouse becoming new again.

“I’m excited to be a part of this,” he said.