Never discourage a 20-something from travelling abroad: it might just inspire an empire. That’s what happened when Meat & Bread co-founders Cord Jarvie and Frankie Harrington met in Dublin, Ireland in 2000 while working at a restaurant called Eden.
Legend has it the two used to dine before their shifts at Gruel, a restaurant that served hand-carved, roasted-meat sandwiches. By 2010, the duo called upon chef Joseph Sartor to recreate the flavours of those simple, yet magnificent sandwiches. A few months later they opened their first restaurant in Gastown, Vancouver.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the Meat & Bread franchise has three Vancouver locations, one in Seattle, Wash., and one in Calgary. Ontario is the next target for expansion, with outlets planned for Toronto’s downtown, Queen Street and Yorkdale areas. Yet another location is slated for London, Ont. in the Western University/Masonville Area.
Part of Meat & Bread’s recipe for success is its insistence on focusing on one thing — the roasted sandwich (the meats vary). There’s usually a maximum of four sandwiches available per day. By targeting the lunch hour (the restaurant is only open from 12 to 5 each day), Meat & Bread delivers that home-cooked, satisfying and lavish lunch that few restaurants offer. It covers a niche market that works well for both chefs — who wanted to leave behind the16-hour day grind — and for millennials, who are willing to spend $10 on a quality sandwich.
The hipster aesthetic (sparse, yet nostalgic), high-end/high-quality menu items (including craft sodas and cold-brewed coffee) and large communal tables combine to represent the ultimate in millennial branding. Not only do millennial foodies love concept restaurants, but especially those that reconfigure eating arrangements to reflect a communal rather, than an individual, seating arrangement.
A limited menu succeeds because it doesn’t overwhelm guests with choice. There is one type of bread — ciabatta — and one culinary specialty — roasts. These are displayed and carved across a long cutting board, with pride and performance. Eric Hudson, owner of Meat & Bread in Calgary’s Meat Exchange Building, says the concept has taken off. “I still can’t believe the line-up,” says Hudson. “They begin even before we open and continue long after. But I can guarantee, if you are the 50th person in line, it will only take you about six minutes to get your sandwich.”
However, millennials may find themselves pouting about the absence of gluten-free choices. This is one restaurant that will not cater to finicky dietary demands — a choice that has proven to be a good thing for business. For non-meat eaters, there’s an old-cheddar grilled cheese; vegans are patently not welcome.
While Craig Stanghetta designed the original sparse, yet nostalgic Meat & Bread units in Vancouver, co-owners Jarvie and Harrington allowed Hudson to renovate his own franchise, so long as it kept with the general aesthetic of simplicity and echoed some of the design themes established in the original. These include the white subway tiles, high ceilings, magnetic blackboard and wooden countertop for carving before guests.
“I love this concept because it allows me family time, but also the adrenaline-rush of fast service and many interactions a day with people,” says Hudson. “It’s also a relief to focus on the essentials as a chef, rather than creating 80 different restaurant items a night.”
The longest line-ups for Meat & Bread occur during a three-day window before Christmas day, when the restaurant offers a Turducken sandwich complete with a jalapeño-cranberry mustard, brown-butter sage, pickled red cabbage, arugula and apple jus ($12.50).
It’s an old-school concept that has resonated with thousands and promises to continue to expand across Canada and the U.S. A notice on its website says it’s currently looking for experienced partners to launch new franchises.
In an age where restaurants too often attempt to cater to everyone’s palate, Meat & Bread makes no apologies for its simple and stripped-down menu that mostly caters to carnivores.
Written by Jennifer Febbraro