Cottage Comfort on the Pier
One would think that Jim van der Tas, managing partner of the Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant, has lived in Steveston his entire life based on his passion for and commitment to the village, yet he and his family moved here in 2004. In a short time he has planted many roots and he may just be one of the busiest men in Steveston.
Not only is Jim van der Tas devoted to his business and his family; he also actively gives back to the village as he sits on three Steveston board of directors. He feels that Steveston is the jewel of Richmond, if not the Lower Mainland, and is committed to promoting all that the area has to offer.
Jim van der Tas and his wife Janet own the Blue Canoe in partnership with Janet’s brother. Jim van der Tas says the decision to open their business “happened almost by accident.” While visiting Steveston with a friend they walked along the pier to take in the view. They discussed the area’s potential and his friend joked that Jim van der Tas should buy a restaurant (stemming from his background as director of food & beverage at Vancouver’s Marriott Renaissance). This conversation quickly turned into reality when the van der Tas’ made an offer to purchase two former Steveston businesses, which they renovated into one larger space to create Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant.
There was an immediate sense that something fresh and fun was going on when Blue Canoe’s logo appeared featuring an Adirondack chair perched beside the water’s edge, and a full-scale lifeguard’s chair appeared at the entrance to the business. The concept was to create a cottage style atmosphere. “It’s rustic and beautiful, like kicking back at a lakeside cottage,” says Jim van der Tas. The restaurant’s name celebrates the blue ocean and is also a tribute to seafood that is featured prominently on the menu.
What is the history behind the rustic canoe that is suspended from the dining room ceiling? Jim van der Tas put feelers out to find the perfect canoe and discovered this one, circa 1954, which had been stored inside a barn in Quebec. It was stripped, waxed, and true to Jim van der Tas’ sense of humour, he installed two small signs indicating, “this canoe is blue” when people began to question its natural colour.
The canoe is a focal point, along with many special touches including the wood sided walls, mirrors that look like window panes, a cozy gas fireplace framed by river rock, and a selection of Langley artist Jill Hall’s cottage style furniture and decor throughout the restaurant. Add in the fun signage throughout, including the amusing outdoor directional sign, cozy throws on the backs of patio chairs, charming outdoor lighting along with patio heaters which, if you close your eyes, can mimic sitting by a campfire, mix in the ocean air and fishing boats bobbing at the dock, and you feel like you are on a relaxing seaside vacation.
Every so often Jim van der Tas pinches himself to make sure he is not dreaming that this spectacular location is his ‘office.’ He is grateful for the countless friendships he has made in the five years since Blue Canoe has been in operation (June 8, 2008 was the official opening date).
The restaurant offers something for everyone, both young and old, in a casual and cozy environment that is known for its unique selection of beer and wine, along with chef Danilo Ibarra’s fresh local cuisine.
Chef Ibarra works closely with Jim van der Tas on menu development. Jim van der Tas says the menu is always evolving to keep the dining experience fresh and exciting, as well to engage the customers and the staff, and over time has shone the spotlight more heavily on seafood. A small sample of the current offerings include a selection of burgers (a cottage experience is not complete without this staple) along with local, wild, line caught salmon (wrapped in corn husk, summer succotash, preserved lemon cream), West Coast salmon chowder (salmon, corn, sweet potato, bacon), heirloom tomato and strawberry salad (burrata cheese, D-Original Sausage Haus spek, mustard greens, honey balsamic vinaigrette) and a delicious dessert menu including a heavenly lemon meringue pie.
Blue Canoe is proud to buy from local fishers (Organic Ocean) and farmers. Jim van der Tas is very excited about the relationship the restaurant has formed with local farmers that have been growing seasonal produce for Blue Canoe including lettuce, potatoes, berries, mustard greens, and herbs. Jim van der Tas says he would take great pleasure in owning a farm. In his dream he would grow his own crops to use in Blue Canoe’s kitchen although he laughs and says his wife won’t allow this idea to transpire.
In the early years of the business Jim van der Tas was at the restaurant virtually every day, however over time he has is now able to take well-deserved days off. Jim van der Tas describes his front-end role as similar to that of an old-fashioned maître d’. His amicable nature is suited for this role as he effortlessly circulates and is attentive to the well being of the customers and the staff. Janet van der Tas, a certified general accountant, is equally busy with her work behind the scenes managing the accounting. Jim van der Tas is full of praise for the Blue Canoe’s staff, which he describes as one big happy family. During the busy summer season the restaurant employees a staff of seventy. He is also deeply grateful to the loyal customers, many have supported Blue Canoe since it first opened.
The winter months allow Jim van der Tas some free time to coach his sons’ Richmond Minor hockey teams. Ben (8) and Aiden (10) thoroughly enjoy the family business and Jim van der Tas would be pleased if they elect to work at Blue Canoe when they are older. The boys have already expressed interest and have inherited their mother and father’s charm and social nature.
Running one of Steveston’s most successful restaurants keeps Jim van der Tas extremely busy yet he finds time to volunteer on three Steveston not-for-profit organization boards. He is the President of the Steveston Merchants Association, which he founded with Vince Morlet (owner of Tapenade Bistro) in 2009, as they believed a voice for Steveston businesses was sorely lacking and felt work had to be done to attract more people to visit the village. In addition, Jim van der Tas is the co-chair of the Steveston 20/20 group that meets to discuss current issues and the long-term vision for the village as we move towards the year 2020. Finally, Jim van der Tas also sits on the Gulf of Georgia Cannery’s board. Janet van der Tas is also active in the community with her sons’ school and sports.
“Steveston has so much potential to be an even better and more vibrant community. I want to help it grow in a respectful, carefully thought out manner for generations to enjoy its beauty and history,” says Jim van der Tas. When we see how the couple has made Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant a local landmark, and the creative ideas that Jim van der Tas devotedly offers the village, it is easy to believe his vision will come to fruition.
Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant 140-3866 Bayview Street Richmond BC V7E 4R7 Telephone 604-275-7811 www.bluecanoerestaurant.com