Double Business Feature — S’Wich Cafe & BLVD Bistro: Both Celebrate North Shore News Readers Choice Awards!

Reader's Choice Winners

I discovered BLVD Bistro one morning last summer when my BFF and Big Sis, Mona had spent the night and we were craving brunch. I did a Google search and they were one of the first to pop up for North Vancouver.

They provided great customer service and yummy noms. And I found out the Chef and Owner of BLVD also is the man behind the business next door, S’wich Cafe.

I went to work straight away taking photos of our brunch, the decor and featured them on my Instagram page along with local hot sauce, Jumpin’ Johnny’s. And more recently I was able to visit S’Wich Cafe with my Foodie Cohort, Mama Izumi and ordered an El Cubano, Up Your Alley and their Vegan Chilli.

Winner of North Shore News Reader's Choice Awards - BLVD Bistro Brunch
Winner of North Shore News Readers Choice Awards – BLVD Bistro Favourite Weekend Brunch & Favourite Breakfast Restaurant

I had the privilege of interviewing Chef Erik Juarez and thoroughly enjoyed our Q & A session:

M: When did you open S’wich Cafe and Blvd Bistro?

C: S’wich Cafe was opened August 1, 2011 (OMG) and BLVD BISTRO opened April 20, 2016.

M: Did you plan from the beginning to open two businesses side by side?

C: I didn’t plan on it at all! I thought I was going to live simply. Sling coffees, a few sandwiches and not do anything more in the hospitality business ever again.

BLVD Bistro's Standard Issue Benedict
BLVD Bistro’s Standard Issue Benedict

M: Where are you from? If you moved to Vancouver, why did you move here?

C: I was born and raised in North Vancouver. It is my home and always will be. I’ve moved around a bunch in my youth, Mexico, Spain, Kelowna, and the Salmon Arm.

M: What was your inspiration for your businesses?

C: Truthfully, I never meant to open a business. I was a dedicated Chef that fell into the same trap as so many others before me.

Find a decent job and work your ass off for some owners that would probably replace you tomorrow if you dropped dead. That’s what happened. I was working 16 hour days with no days off in sight for people I feel, couldn’t care less about me.

I was stressed, sick, fat and unhappy. At that time my grandmother passed away and I inherited 33 thousand dollars from a life insurance policy. The shop you know as S’wich Cafe was originally a neighbourhood coffee shop that wasn’t doing so hot.

One day the owner asked me jokingly if I wanted to buy a cafe. I said, “Yes, I DO!” So with that inheritance and some help from my Mom I bought that business (paid too much) but now I have something that is mine. A little tiny piece of a hospitality business and a chance to do it differently.

M: Did you always know that you wanted to be a chef?

C: I did not know but I was about 16 when I found out. I worked at EARLS like a lot of North Vancouver men and women have. I worked my way through the ranks, learned to communicate, learned to flirt.

Most importantly, I learned that I had a deep love for cooking, the push, the lifestyle and the art. However, somewhere in my limited experience I knew there was more art and skill to uncover.

Chef Erik Juarez
Chef Erik Juarez & his dry cured Spanish Chorizo

M: Did you always know that you wanted to be a restaurant owner?

C: I think every aspiring Chef dreams of opening his or her own place. But Ownership was never really a specific goal I had in mind.

My career has just organically led me to these places. Basically, life presents doors and pathways and I hope that by now — I have the life experience and instinct to walk through the right doors and tread down the correct paths. Trust me when I say, I haven’t always.

M: Where did you study the art of culinary?

C: I had been working for a few years in fine dining kitchens by my early 20’s. I had some amazing mentors and some horrible ones.

I remember the day I told one of my chefs that I was going to go to culinary school. He said, “Erik, you can go to school, spend 10 thousand dollars on a fancy diploma and you can hang it on the bathroom wall. The only thing it will be good for is to wipe your ass when you run out of toilet paper.”

I will never forget that. He was kinda right. I staged and worked in every kitchen I could. Every place in town with the word “Le” before the name I worked there.

I read culinary text books like novels and tried the recipes that interested me. I found my resources and my style and have evolved it over 20 years of learning. I still use my online subscription to “ Cook’s Illustrated” daily and have been collecting those magazines for 20 years.

M: What would your advice to future chefs with dreams of owning their own restaurant be?

C: RUN! RUN away fast!!! Hahaha. Joking…

I have a ton of advice. Firstly, be equal to your concept and your staff. Put in the work and do what it takes to make it mesh. There a lot of very long difficult days ahead but I promise once you’re on the other side of it… It’s worth it.

Be there for your staff, know them and care about them.

S'Wich Cafe
S’Wich Cafe’s lovely Tina helped me order from the many yummy sandwich options

Back up your weaknesses, If cooking dope food is your thing but numbers aren’t, make sure you budget and be able to afford someone that has your bottom line in mind at all times.

DM me or Follow me for more advice. Hahahahaha…

Chef Erik Juarez’s IG

M: Do you have a philosophy in life or favourite quote(s) that you would like to share with everyone?

C: I also have a bunch of them.

‘How you do one thing is how you do everything’

‘Perfection is the little things done well. Everyone else sees the big things’

My new FAVOURITE:

BE THE BEST. WORK HARD- WORK FAST-WORK CLEANLY. EVERY INGREDIENT WE USE HAS TO BE THE BEST WE CAN AFFORD.

SEASONS HAVE TO RULE THE KITCHEN. ONLY ALLOW MINIMAL MANIPULATION OF INGREDIENTS WHEN NECESSARY. ELEVATE FLAVOURS THRU UNDERSTANDING.

COOK AS IF YOU ARE EATING. WASTE IS POOR WORKMANSHIP. EXTRACTION OF FLAVOUR IS OUR ROLE IN LIFE AS COOKS.

BALANCE OF MENU IS OUR OBLIGATION TO OUR GUESTS. HEALTH IS CRUCIAL IN MENU PLANNING.

SEASONING IS A TRUE SKILL. SO TASTE, TASTE AND TASTE AGAIN. OUR GOAL IS TO BE THE BEST. SO WE MUST ACT THE BEST.

Winner of North Shore News Reader's Choice Awards - S'Wich Cafe Favourite Caterer
Winner of North Shore News Reader’s Choice Awards – S’Wich Cafe Favourite Caterer

MILESTONES

The meaning of milestones has changed for me. I used to think it was winning awards and competitions. But I couldn’t be more wrong.

Milestones for me are when employees leave you to pursue their own life goals, when great things happen to the team, and when people tell you they love a component or multiple components of your business.

One of my greatest achievements is finding a way to pay a living wage to my staff and provide meaningful benefits to my whole team. Not having to hire and retrain constantly because people feel appreciated and included. It’s built into our company’s culture of genuineness and inclusivity.

Accolades are nice, Reader’s Choice Awards, Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, recognition from our peers. It all feels amazing but I’d have to say, surviving a pandemic, coming out stronger and better has been our greatest achievement to date. I will never forget the strength it took our team to weather the storm.

I am grateful to my staff that stayed with me and came back. We have never been better and that is my greatest achievement to date.

To learn more about BLVD Bistro please visit their website and follow their Instagram as well as S’Wich Cafe’s (right next door) website and IG Page.

Mayumi & Mama Izumi’s Foodie Adventures — Sula Indian Restaurant Commercial Dr

Painting of Buddha

Mama and I decided to go to Sula Indian Restaurant on Commercial Drive for the fourth installment of Mayumi & Mama Izumi’s Foodie Adventures. “The Drive” as it’s affectionately called by many locals, is in Vancouver’s iconic Little Italy and is chalked full of restaurants of all ethnicities, grocery stores, clothing shops and boutiques.

It was my first time but Mama had been before with one of her foodie friends. As soon as we stepped inside the dark, exotic entrance, we were greeted warmly by Sujata. She was also our server and after a few minutes of seating us with our menus, she asked us if we had any questions. No, we were ready to order. Mama Izumi usually leaves it up to me to choose our entrees.

Mayumi and Mama Izumis Foodie Adventures Sula Indian Restaurant
Koi fish inside Sula Indian Restaurant on Commercial Dr

I chose their Butter Chicken and Fish Malabari which is a traditional yellow curry with roasted coconut, black mustard & tamarind that is dairy and gluten free, and ordered Basmati rice and Naan bread to accompany the curries in medium spiciness.

The curries were piping hot and stayed so because they were served in stainless steel bowls that had tea light candles under them. Both dishes were delicious loaded with umami and we, foodies were in bliss. And to top it off, the generous portions allowed us to bring leftovers home.

Mayumi and Mama Izumis Foodie Adventures Sula Indian Restaurant
Fish Malaburi and Butter Chicken at Sula Indian Restaurant on Commercial Dr

We will definitely be back and recommend this restaurant to fans of Indian cuisine. The intriguing ambiance, delectable curries, and great customer service, Sula has it all!

To have a look at Sula’s other yummy noms on their menu, visit their website and follow them on their Instagram.

Mayumi & Mama Izumi’s Foodie Adventures — White Spot Restaurants

Mama Izumi

If you have lived in our beautiful city for any amount of time, you will come to learn about Vancouver’s local favourite and long-time provider of our dine-out food staples, White Spot restaurants. I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC and ever since I was a little girl, I have loved and nommed on their yummy. comfort food.

I started with their Pirate Paks, progressed to the Legendary Burger, OMG … Triple-O heaven … and as their menu evolved so did my foodie palette. I have recently revisited my longtime beloved dish, Chicken, Broccoli & Cheese, a hint of curry served with Basmati rice.

My foodie cohort and I decided for our third installment of Mayumi & Mama Izumi’s Foodie Adventures that we would go to our preferred location at Pemberton Plaza in North Vancouver. We love it here because it’s comfy, cozy, and especially because of the wonderful team of servers they have on board: Morgan, Shauna, Grace, Katiee, and Gemma to name a few.

White Spot Restaurants
Mayumi & Mama Izumi’s Foodie Adventures at White Spot Restaurants – Fish & Chips and BC Salmon Burger

Smiling faces, warm, sincere attention to their customers & their needs, and they exhibit a real joy while they work to serve us. These are some of the reasons Mama and I love the girls at this particular White Spot.

We also love to support and promote local businesses. And we hold the restaurant that was founded by Nat Bailey dear to our hearts. He started the first drive-in restaurant and the accompanying car-hop tray.on 70th and Granville in 1928 — the first of its kind in Canada.

To learn more about White Spot visit their website and follow them on their Instagram. Pemberton Plaza, Mama & my favourite location is at #107 – 1226 Marine Dr, in North Vancouver.

Mayumi & Mama Izumi’s Foodie Adventures — Famoso Commercial Dr

Famoso's Prawn & Pesto Pizza and Ragu Pasta

I’m very excited to share with you all the second installment of Mayumi & Mama Izumi’s Foodie Adventures. Today we went to Famoso Pizzeria & Bar in Little Italy’s Commercial Drive.

It was the first time for both of us and it was a wonderful dining experience! We were the first customers there and were greeted by Daytime Manager, James.

We started our lunch off with Caesars. Not only were they TASTY but they were also on special for only $5 AND just happen to be our favourite cocktail! Lucky us!

Caesars
Famosos’s Tasty Caesars – $5 drink special EVERY Saturday & Sunday

Because we were first timers to the pizzeria, James asked if we would like to hear his recommendations, so I explained that we would like to order a pasta and a pizza pie and share them.

He recommended a few different pastas they have such as their Fettucine Alfredo, a Linguini Rose with Prawns, and Rigatoni Ragu made with their beef & pork meatballs. We decided on their Ragu and for pizza we ordered the Prawn Pesto … OMG both were delish BUT their pie was like an explosion of flavour in my mouth with different notes and layers of umami (Japanese for savouriness)! Prawns, pesto, arugula, and sun-dried tomatoes … YUM!

James asked us if we would like dessert. I said you have dessert?! We were both full but I said that we take a look. Although I had scanned their QR Code to order from their online menu earlier, I forgot that I needed to look on my iPhone.

So he explained that they had Tiramisu, Blood Orange Cheesecake, Nutella Pizza and Gelato. I was a little conflicted because where else can you get a cheescake with blood orange?! We wanted to order their Tiramisu and almost did but decided not to because we were stuffed.

Tiramisu
Famoso’s Tiramisu – my favourite cake

To our delight, James brought us a slice of their Tiramisu in a take-out container on the house! And he added, so we don’t have to worry about deciding… How sweet!

Mama Izumi & I appreciated James’ intuitive customer service, enjoyed the umami of their food, their ambience (they played music from greats Bob Marley & Rolling Stones), comfortable booths, and the pizza of course!

If you would like to taste their savoury pizzas and pastas for yourself have a look at Famoso‘s website, visit them at 1380 Commerical Drive, and you can also follow them on their Instagram.

Mayumi & Mama Izumi’s Foodie Adventures — Fets Whisky Kitchen

Fets Whisky Kitchen

Welcome to my new series, Mayumi & Mama Izumi’s Foodie Adventures! Today marks my first installment and I’m very excited to write about Fets Whiskey Kitchen. It was my second and Mama’s first time at the yummy eatery and bar.

Located in East Vancouver’s Little Italy on ‘the Drive’, Fets is nestled beside Havana and across the street from Grandview Park.

Mama and I ordered their Country Fried Steak and the Cooper’s Breakfast. Fets’ Country Fried Steak is crispy on the outside and the organic meat is moist and tender on the inside — the best I’ve had. It is accompanied by Maker’s Mark Bourbon white gravy, rosemary biscuit & bread, sunny side up egg, hashbrowns (with sauteed onions), and a dash of greens (with pickled onions). Delish!

Fets' Country Fried Steak and Cooper's Breakfast
Fets’ Country Fried Steak and Cooper’s Breakfast

The Cooper’s Breakfast is so tasty that my mouth is watering reliving my memories of it. It is comprised of braised local pork, black beans, sunny egg, and cornbread. All the flavours in both dishes enhance rather than compete with each other. It is gourmet comfort food and my gourmand compliments go to the chef.

Not only am I a foodie, but also a coffee connoisseur. Fets did not disappoint. They serve Western Canadian, Canterbury coffee that is filled with multi levels of roasted flavour notes.

Canterbury coffee at Fets Whisky Kitchen
Canterbury coffee at Fets Whisky Kitchen

A definite must if you haven’t already had the pleasure to nom at this wonderful Commercial Drive restaurant. Besides the yummy eats, the customer service is also top notch and they have a heated patio. Need I say more?

If you would like to learn more about Fets Whisky Kitchen follow them on their Instagram.