“If this doesn’t work, try something else”. It’s a philosophy being lived to the fullest by David Jones, the Owner/Operator at Smoke ’N Water Restaurant at Pacific Shores Resort in Nanoose Bay. He was the guy who tried the No Tipping concept, the first in North America, when he opened the restaurant in June of 2014. It wasn’t sustainable for the bottom line and he stopped in August of that same year. He maintains to this day that he’d go back to it in a heartbeat, saying “it’s the only way to run a restaurant”. He raised his prices by 15%, but he says that wasn’t enough. He didn’t anticipate the full ripple affect on his bottom line that higher wages would have. That shortfall, combined with a simultaneous spike in food costs, made the No Tipping approach a short lived one.
The restaurant, overlooking Craig Bay, was once home to Canada’s largest private, indoor aquarium and had been touted as one of the Seven Wonders of Oceanside. A couple of years before David took over, someone turned the wrong valve on the tank, desalinating the tank and killing the majority of tropical fish. He says it's a challenge to get contractors these days to maintain a healthy environment for the fish that were left and it made sense to take the tanks out. The risk to the remaining fish was too high.
The tank was a big selling point for David, and as a new owner, he was left scrambling to fill a gap he hadn’t anticipated. He's an innovative guy and he focused his attention on finding that sweet spot between what the customers know they want, and what they don’t know they want.
“I’ve always been innovative,” he says, over a plate of Pumpkin Pancakes, topped with Maple Butter Cream. I had come back to visit him for a more in-depth conversation at a quieter time. He mops the floors in the mornings and I visited him then. David's grandfather was an organic farmer in 1933 and his mom was teaching yoga in Southern California in the 1960’s before Yoga was mainstream. “You can’t get too far out and that’s where I’ve been,” he says. “The tipping, it might have worked in Vancouver. In Toronto it would have worked. Here, we’re 10 years behind.” When asked if he finds that frustrating he says, “Oh hell ya. It’s frustrating as hell," his American accent twanging. He’s adapting though, savvy enough to know that adapting to his market is what’s going to make him successful.
He seems to have struck a chord with live music and the older crowd, as he ponders on where the twenty-somethings might be hanging out. The night I was there with three of my foodie friends, the place was packed.
The night we were there to experience Smoke ’N Water, David brought the first of a five course sample menu; grilled asparagus topped with shaved country ham, goat cheese, toasted almonds, caramelized onions, lemon and olive oil. He’s proud, and he should be, of the meals that his chef, Nick Allan, creates. It was good. I’m a sucker for goat cheese and nuts. Also on the chef's sampling menu was Seafood Chowder (which was fantastic and something I’ll be going back for more on regular basis) Southern Seared Scallops, Smoked Baby Back Ribs and Pulled Pork Mac n' Cheese. David presented each dish with excitement and knowledge. In addition to the food menu, keeping it relevant and fresh but not too unfamiliar for the somewhat sheltered pallets of his clientele, the cocktail menu has lots to offer. I became an instant fan of The Dark and Sparky, a fresh take on the classic Dark and Smokey.
David Jones is an intriguing man, with a story that includes more than a few surprises. He became a Canadian Citizen on St. Patrick’s Day 2016, after meeting his wife while on tour with his Church, The Centre for Inspired Living, that he founded twenty-five years ago. He’s an Ordained Minister with a Master’s Degree in Theology. He’s performed weddings for guests at Pacific Shores. He says he's getting used to things in Canada, “You can't walk into somebody’s living room and tell them they’re doing it wrong." He's a fantastic conversationalist with a big heart. He got emotional, almost teary, when talking about his philosophy around service. He says you just never know who's sitting in that seat, and what they're going through.
David Jones is working hard on doing it right at Smoke ’N Water Restaurant, where Southern Comfort Meets Westcoast Fresh, and it shows. There is live entertainment several days a week, theme nights and dinner features. For more, visit them on-line.