Restaurants have been around for so long that they’re usually taken for granted.
Most customers probably take just enough time to check out the menu and absorb the atmosphere but not sufficient to ponder why these institutions matter.
As Vancouver restaurateur Karri Green-Schuermans points out, restaurants do more than simply serve food to nourish the body. They also feed the human need for connection.
“Who do you trust that you’ve never shared a meal with?” Green-Schuermans asked to illustrate her point during a phone interview with the Straight. “It’s rare that you have not first shared a meal with someone before you invite them to be part of your life.”
This is where restaurants, typically, come in.
“What restaurants offer,” the cofounder of celebrated Vancouver dining establishment Chambar (568 Beatty Street) explained, “is an intermediary place for people to connect before they become comfortable letting somebody into their home.
“And for people that have small apartments, or for safety issues, a restaurant is the first place that you have a date, celebrate, do deals, and pitch ideas,” Green-Schuermans continued.
She went on to recall that restaurants started in history as places where travelers stopped before carrying on with their journey.
“You would be with other strangers and you would be able to have conversations with strangers, and it’s a safe place where you could share a meal and build trust between people.”
As a restaurateur, Green-Schuermans believes that being able to provide a space like Chambar— “where really interesting conversations and relationships can be formed” —can be very rewarding.
She said that she and Chambar cofounder Nico Schuermans have met a lot of people who came in first as customers and eventually became their personal friends.
Also, the two of them gained an extended family courtesy of people who worked for them at Chambar and later opened their own restaurants.
As an example, she mentioned that they became business partners with former server Robert Kane at Café Medina, when it opened next door to Chambar on Beatty Street. Kane now owns the business, which has relocated to 780 Richards Street as Medina Cafe.
Green-Schuermans also cited David Robertson. The former Chambar sous chef owns the Dirty Apron Cooking School, Delicatessen & Catering (540 Beatty Street), which started as a joint venture with the Chambar principals.
There are others, like ex – Chambar bartender Tannis Ling, who founded Bao Bei (163 Keefer Street).
Karri and Nico have had quite a journey themselves since opening Chambar in 2004.
It was the first restaurant for Karri — who brought a marketing background — and Nico, a chef. Their story has been hailed by media as a legendary success for a couple who started with a $ 5,000 credit card.
“Nico and I are still business partners and parents, but we have not been married since 2016,” Green-Schuermans told the Straight.
They have three boys, with two of them working at Chambar. “One of them does dishwashing and prep, and the other one used to be a dishwasher and he’s on the line now, so he’s working his way up the line,” Green-Schuermans said.
“We’ve encouraged our oldest to be able to work and get enough skills so that he can go and get a job anywhere, but we do not feel that we’re going to expect our kids to take over,” she added.
Chambar is coming up to its 20th anniversary in 2024, and Karri and Nico are reflecting on what’s next.
“I think [that] at this stage of life, ”Green-Schuermans said,“ we’re looking at and having conversations around, you know, eventually, we’ll be too old to run this place, so what do we do? What’s important to us? What does legacy mean? ”
In addition to helping former staff members open their own restaurants, Green-Schuermans said Chambar was a pioneer in sustainability initiatives.
“We’re the first restaurant to become carbon-neutral in Vancouver. We were the first restaurant to separate food waste and go into composting, ”she said.
Outside the restaurant, Green-Schuermans is involved in efforts related to the environment.
As an example, she is a project director with Greater Vancouver Innovation Capital.
“We work with the cities, Metro Vancouver, the Port [of Vancouver]and universities, and we’re working towards creating a regional infrastructure master plan so that we could regionally make a transition to renewable energy. ”
Reflecting on the success of Chambar, Green-Schuermans said people come back for many things, like the quality of food and service.
The dishes at Chambar reflect Nico’s “deep respect for the process of French cooking” yet bring his own passion for North African and Middle Eastern flavors, she stated. The Congolaise Moules Frites — mussels with tomato-coconut cream, smoked chili, lime, and cilantro — exemplifies this devotion.
The wine list is a product of many sommeliers who have been given latitude to enhance seasonal and signature dishes while seeking out “vanguards” of the industry. The bar team, led by Brendan Wooldridge, creates an array of elixirs with seasonal ingredients.
People also come just for the feeling they get inside.
“I spent a lot of time really contemplating how do people want to feel when they come into a restaurant,” Green-Schuermans said. “They want to leave their day at the door. They want to escape and have a new experience, potentially every time.
“It’s wanting to have a moment in life, where you pause and have this beautiful experience and connect with people,” Green-Schuermans continued. “I think human connection is what we need next to our basic needs more than anything, and by creating a space to be true and for that to happen, people come back.”