The Commercial Drive food empire committed to doing business differently


Credit: Rich Won

Doug Stephen and his team hope to continue to grow their many efforts

There aren’t many people like Doug Stephen. At least I haven’t come across many in over a decade covering various industries in the province. And there certainly aren’t many people doing what he does. Fair enough – there aren’t really enough hours in the day for that.

Stephen (along with partners Lindsay Mann and Zach Wilcox) kicked things off with DownLow Chicken Shack, Vancouver’s universally loved and consensus best fried chicken outpost on Commercial Drive in June 2018. They followed that up with DownLow Burgers, which ‘they served from The American on Main Street, then returned to the Drive with Vennie’s Sub Shop and Drive Canteen, a convenience store with hard-to-find and delicious homemade goods like glizzies (hot dogs), perfect nacho bites, sundaes and soft drinks.

Every day it feels like Stephen is expanding his empire, including recently when he and his team hosted an event announcing additions to the Drive Canteen in a new back patio and a secret thrift store downstairs that hopefully he will organize different artistic events.

Drive Canteen is already one of the most unique places in town and Stephen, a huge sneakerhead, has only reinforced that, with a wall of rare sneakers and goods like Oreo cereal that you’d be hard pressed to find. somewhere else.

READ MORE: Our editors write Vancouver’s best chicken sandwiches

But bigger plans persist. Stephen has been able to grow even with the real estate craze in Vancouver, but he knows he may not be able to keep going forever. He would like to bring DownLow Chicken to other cities in Canada and wants to do so with a different franchise model. “I have no intention of selling the rights to anyone who is not an employee of one of our sites,” says Stephen.

“To have our name and our brand, you also have to understand what we are doing here. I want franchisees to be able to offer that same environment to their employees and their customers. »

He also stayed true to certain values ​​that brought him here. Its sundaes are made with homemade chocolate syrup which is time consuming and expensive to produce, but it’s enough that it’s better than using the only option on the market at Nestlé.

Living right next to Commercial with a young child, children in the surrounding neighborhood are also important to Stephen. “They come here and check the sneakers or the candy or whatever,” he says. “They can hang around here, I know a bunch of them now.”

Few massive Canadian franchises have been started by someone who, by their own admission, comes up with their ideas, “thanks to smoking a lot of weed.” But it’s also what makes Stephen and his restaurants a perfect fit for the area.

“We care here,” he insists. “We want to give back to this community and we try to do that with all these different things. I’m here pretty much every day and I love it.


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