June 20 2019
Gastowner: Kai DeNeve from Ampersand Bistro & Bar
Written by Gastown Admin
Name: Kai DeNeve
Title: Owner and World Traveller
Business: Ampersand Bistro & Bar
What do you do and how did you get here?
I am a co-owner of Ampersand Bistro & Bar on Water Street, and I also sell academic motion capture software to film studios. How I got here was via Calgary 4 years ago. I was drawn to Vancouver by the west coast lifestyle and a calling to become a business owner in the restaurant industry. As a long time server and bartender, the idea of having my own little bistro and bar has been in the back of my mind for many years.
What inspired the concept?
Our concept for Ampersand is East Asian meets west coast styled tapas like tuna tataki with grilled octopus, taco taco dim sum, and unagi sliders. My vision for the space was to create an environment that is casual, intimate, and relaxed where people can chill out with craft cocktails and shared small plates.
I was inspired to create Ampersand through my experiences living in Taiwan and travelling extensively throughout East Asia. I loved the hole in wall eateries where locals gathered to share food and good conversation. Every place was different with its own vibe, style of drinks, and food menu. Never really crazy or too big, these spots were always chill, and I thought this is something I could take a chance on bringing back home.
Did you change much of the space when you moved in?
When we took over the space on Water Street, not much was needed in terms of renovations. While we changed the bar and removed the TV, we left it pretty much as we found it. It’s a beautifully designed room and we are lucky to have it.
Why open Ampersand in Gastown?
I had been looking for a location for a year before we moved into Gastown. I was living in Coquitlam and looked for spaces both there and in Port Moody. I couldn’t find anything that fit our concept. When we found the space on Water Street (once the location of Mosquito), I was already halfway there. It was perfect. And why wouldn’t I want to own a restaurant in Gastown? Any time I went out drinking in Vancouver, it was always in Pourhouse, The Diamond, or The Keefer, as these are my top three favourite places in the city for cocktails. Gastown has an awesome vibe and is the best location in the city for pub/cocktail crawls, going from place to place, and have a totally different experience at each one.
You said you’ve always loved hanging out in Gastown. Can you recall a particular happy moment from your adventures here?
Certainly many of my nights out drinking in Gastown although I can’t remember them all. I definitely remember having had a lot of good experiences in The Sardine Can. They are an authentic Spanish tapas restaurant, and you’d be hard pressed to find their equal anywhere else in Vancouver. Plenty of the good times from days gone by have been at bars like The Pourhouse, where I have gotten to know the staff and learned a lot about cocktails from Sabine who’s awesome at what she does. I have been inspired to open my own place through my talking to the pros in Gastown who are masters at their craft.
Do you have any events or special nights coming up?
We are taking part in the upcoming Gastown Thursday Nights summer event series. We are doing a collaboration with local artist Sean Karemaker who has create a large mural for us. He will be here at Ampersand creating some live art and signing prints on the night. And be sure to watch out for our roaming food cart moving throughout the neighbourhood offering food samples from our menu.