Emerging River District might prove lucrative with popular restaurant group

Gooseneck Hospitality opens Lucky Taco and Bufala amidst lingering restaurant crisis

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By ANNABEL BESSEM

Amidst a provincewide hospitality crisis, the owners of restaurant groups are finding that collaborating with River District developers has helped them survive tough times in a restaurant industry that has struggled to land on its feet post-pandemic.

The hospitality groups, which are trying to capitalize on the emerging South Vancouver neighbourhood that is still short on dining options, say they are counting on the untapped potential.

Last month, the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association released a report that found over 50 per cent of foodservice and hospitality businesses have been unprofitable since the COVID-19 outbreak four years ago. Additionally, the cost of imported goods has soared, alongside staff shortages and a decline in consumer spending.

New opportunity in a growing area

Despite the uncertainty that always accompanies the launch of new restaurants, Gooseneck Hospitality co-owners James Iranzad and Josh Pape chose to launch additional locations of their Lucky Taco and Bufala restaurants in the River District community on Feb. 24.

Iranzad said there are limited options in the River District, prompting his team to see an opportunity. Gooseneck Hospitality opened its first restaurant, Wildebeest, in 2011. The Gastown restaurant did not survive the pandemic.

“Anybody in our position would always feel a little bit nervous and apprehensive,” said Iranzad, adding the experienced pair is confident “that what we’re going to be providing is going to work.”

According to the BCRFA report, 17 per cent of restaurants could close within the next 18 months due to pandemic-related debt.

“It’s very difficult from a couple of angles,” said Ian Tostenson, CEO of the association. Tostenson acknowledges the high rate of failure for most new culinary establishments. Most restaurants fail at some point. “It’s high risk.”

Seasoned restaurateurs prioritized by developer

Wesgroup Properties is the developer behind the majority of the River District community.

Jean Batie, leasing director for Wesgroup Properties, said the company feels confident partnering with restaurants like Gooseneck Hospitality that have a bit more “scale and know-how to operate a restaurant.”

“We want some groups with a little bit of experience and so definitely Buffala and Lucky Taco being the Gooseneck group,” Batie said. “They know what they’re doing.”

Kelly Gordon, owner of Romer’s Burger Bar, partnered with Wesgroup Properties over 10 years ago when there was little built in that area along the Fraser River. It was a move that paid off.

“When we first came down here, there was nothing but mud and the people from the real estate company,” said Gordon, who has worked in the foodservice and hospitality business for over 20 years. “We were the first restaurant down in the River District and it’s been a great decision for us.”

Wesgroup offered similar assistance to Gooseneck during construction.

“They offered to do a lot of the capital cost payments for us and that enabled us to weather the years where it wasn’t so busy down here,” said Gordon, adding that Romer’s doesn’t have as many customers as it did five years ago “because money is spread thinner.”

River District resident Anna Garcia said she has drastically cut down on eating out.

“It’s crazy…the inflation,” Garcia said. “Last year I went to restaurants maybe twice per week and now I just can’t afford one per week.”

Luke Bogdan, another River District resident, said he noticed that “restaurant portion sizes have gotten smaller” which has affected the places he chooses to spend his money.

Upon completion, the River District’s plan is to develop a diverse commercial centre and house 15,000 residents.

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