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Mark Brand

July 12, 2013 by Speakers' Spotlight

Talk Is Cheap

Vital Foods profiles social entrepreneur and restaurateur Mark Brand, who is best known for resurrecting the Save on Meats enterprise in Vancouver’s downtown eastside:

Almost two years to the day since Mark Brand re-opened Save on Meats’ doors to the public, he’s got his sights set on new horizons. The iconic downtown eastside building which houses a diner, a butcher shop and a sandwich window has become the poster child for socially responsible business. ‘Unemployable’ is a non-existent word in Brand’s vocabulary. Save on Meats is a place where anybody with a transferrable skill set and a good attitude can reasonably expect to find work, regardless of their background. It’s this attitude towards doing business, which Brand has turned into a proven brand model. Now he’s taking it and running with it, starting with a farm to table operation on the Sunshine Coast.

“This is not only a viable but a successful business model by incorporating all of the different parts of a community,” he said.

“I have a model now that’s scalable and I can drop it in Manitoba or I can drop it in Buffalo and it will work. I can guarantee it will work.”

Construction is already underway on the 11 acre Gibsons property on a brewery and farm where Brand plans to employ people with developmental disabilities. The hop yard has already been planted and construction has just begun on a trout pond.

“Under the guise of a brewery, I’m building an integrated farm that does what we do here with integrated employment,” he said.

Sitting in a booth in the Save on Meats diner, the sign on the wall behind Brand reads “Talk is Cheap”, a turn of phrase he has clearly taken to heart.

“Everybody comes to a point in their life when they’re either resigned to what life’s going to be or they’re going to go forward,” he said.

“I knew I had many skill sets to fall back on, I could always get a job, that wasn’t going to be a problem. It was more about am I going to make a difference in the world, in the city I live in, or am I going to just talk about it like the other 99%.”

No stranger to controversy, Brand readily admits the path to success for Save on Meats has not been without its stumbling blocks.

What would he do differently?

“Everything. I would do everything differently if I knew then what I know now. It’s the classic old adage. I approached it too aggressively and I set unrealistic goals about what we could in the community where I could have just said – ‘hey, we’re providing a dignified space here where everybody can eat’,” he said.

“That being said, I’d do everything differently and I’d do nothing differently. I’d do nothing differently because I never would have got to this point of understanding and we truly have proved a business model that didn’t exist. People say ‘oh yeah, there are people who do barrier employment’, I say ‘yeah’. There are people who run community kitchens – yes they do. There are people who do vertical integration – yeah, that’s also true. And are people who do charitable endeavours, yeah – that’s also true. But they don’t do all of them and they don’t do it as a traditional business either.”