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Talk Is Cheap

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.”