By Willem Thomas
VANCOUVER – Just a few doors down from Chinatown staple New Town Bakery, a contender has emerged — a hero, even — to offer quality-hoagie-lacking Vancouverites the very thing they’ve been missing: honest, unpretentious, tasty sandwiches done right, New York delicatessen style. Say Hey Cafe isn’t a formal cafe per se, but a proper sandwich shop that has a welcoming, relaxed atmosphere, a straightforward and simple menu, and some seriously solid hoagies.
The owners, restaurant industry newcomer Zachary Zimmerman and experienced chef and restaurateur (Corduroy Pie Company) Graham Marceau, are deservedly excited about their new project, which Zimmerman describes the inspiration for coming from a trip to New York during which he fell in love with Brooklyn’s classic sandwich spots, with a particularly mean roast beef leaving a sandwich-sized hole in his heart after getting home. “I would eat it every day,” he recalls. “In theory, roast beef is a staple sandwich, but I came home and realized I couldn’t get a good sandwich here. It’s a matter of simplicity. Vancouver has a strange way of overcomplicating things.”
That desire for simplicity is reflected in the design and operation of Say Hey Cafe, a deep, rectangular room. The warmly lit space is immaculate and full of charming touches, by way of some creative collaboration between Zimmerman and designers Knauf and Brown. Zimmerman, who put in almost 12 years as a garbage man flipping dumpsters prior to flipping Vancouver’s sandwich game on its head, says, “The platform for Say Hey was making a place that I would want to go.” The counter-service style suits him perfectly. “I like people coming in and not really knowing where to order. I was doing the garbage thing for 12 years, mostly alone, and I love that this is now my business, with a real face-to-face interaction with everyone that comes in.”
The menu is intentionally slim, whereas the six subs (four fixtures and two revolving features) are hefty bundles of high-quality ingredients. A relaxed list of sides such as soups and “magic beans” complement the sandwiches. A point of pride for Zimmerman is the drinks cooler — no liquor license here! — which runs the gamut of sugary beverages, from Five Alive (“We’re very much about those childhood food memories”) to rare imported sodas that Say Hey Cafe might just be the only stockist of in Vancouver.
While Say Hey is a smaller operation (16 seats) than kitchens Marceau has worked in previously, the forethought and effort put into its opening by the two is considerable. They take sandwiches seriously, and it shows.
Say Hey Cafe is located at 156 E Pender Street.say hey cafe