There are people who claim to have discovered things before they were cool, and then there are people who actually did. But the latter group, they don’t brag about it. Instead they go about their days, doing their good work and continuing to further their communities behind the scenes. This is how the family-run Cascade Company has operated since day one—which is certainly saying something, since their flagship bar, The Cascade Room, celebrated its 10th anniversary in September 2017.
Vancouver’s Main Street was not always as hip as it is now. Before the skinny jeans, toques, and beards became commonplace, the sibling web that makes up The Cascade Company decided to open up a bar at Main and 10th, mostly out of a personal desire to have a neighbourhood watering hole. For brothers-in-law Nigel Pike and Rob Edmonds, from Britain and Australia respectively, the neighbourhood pub is an important part of life, and something they found lacking in their adopted home of Vancouver; and so, The Cascade Room was born. “We came along at the right time and established a really good local bar that wasn’t here before we showed up,” says their business partner and sister-in-law Wendy Nicolay. “Now there are, for sure. But at the time, there wasn’t.”
The Cascade Company is made up of Wendy and her brother David Nicolay, plus Nigel and Rob, who are each married to another Nicolay sister (rounding out the owner’s circle is cocktail connoisseur Nick Devine, who is not related to the others but might as well be). Sitting down with Nigel, Wendy, David, and Rob at The Cascade Room, it is easy to see how this network of marriages has resulted in so many successful business ventures. They each clearly respect one another and their positions within the company; instead of fighting over each other to speak, they are each thoughtful with their words. “I think we all do pretty well on the level of keeping the peace and just letting each other really work in their area of focus,” David says. It’s not sibling rivalry, but in fact quite the opposite.
The Cascade Company started in 1998, when Rob and David, co-founders of Evoke International Design, decided to buy a restaurant in Kitsilano. “It was more from a design perspective that we came at it,” says Rob. David adds, “We had no experience running restaurants. And we needed help, so Wendy and Nigel joined us.” As business and hospitality veterans, Wendy and Nigel added an important functional element to the team. And with that they were off, operating the Asian-inspired Tangerine from 1999 to 2005. The siblings all lived in the Mount Pleasant area, so when the opportunity to take a space on Main Street came up, they jumped on it, opening Habit Lounge/Restaurant in 2005 and then The Cascade Room right next door, in 2007. Following that was Charlie’s Little Italian, which replaced Habit in 2013 and closed in 2017 (a move the group says they are happy with), plus The Union (2012) and El Camino’s (2013), both of which are still going strong.
“To be honest, if we hadn’t come to Main Street I don’t think we would have stayed in it,” Wendy says of the tumultuous restaurant industry. “It’s just been such a good area. It was hard in Kitsilano.” Main Street is their home, it’s the neighbourhood they know best; they know what it wants and how to deliver. From the inventive bar food at The Cascade Room, to the Latin American street dishes of El Camino’s, to the Asian flavours of The Union, The Cascade Company’s portfolio is exciting and diverse. These aren’t the most authentic restaurants in the city by any means, nor are they meant to be. These are causal, comfortable spots where the food is reliably good and the atmosphere is consistently cool.
With all three of their operating restaurants on Main Street (though technically The Union is slightly removed, on Union), the family is showing their commitment to their chosen area of the city. And while the hole left by Charlie’s is still fresh, fans of these restaurants will be excited to learn that El Camino’s, at Main and 16th, is expanding into the space next door. “I’m so excited about El Camino’s,” says Wendy. “That one’s a no-brainer and it’s going to be great.”
In a way, Nigel (who also co-owns Main Street Brewing Company), Wendy, Rob, and David are the godparents of the Main Street we know today. “Main is a great commercial street, slowly and naturally evolving. It wasn’t all of a sudden a trendy neighbourhood,” says David. “Here it just feels like a continual, slow evolution.” Which Cascade can definitely take some credit for, having recognized its potential early on. It will truly be exciting to see what they do next.
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