ARE YOU A SUPER HERO OR ANTI HERO? BEHIND THE COUNTER WITH SAY HEY CAFE
For the past few years, Chinatown has been bustling with entrepreneurs and small business owners, who take pride in opening up something to call their very own. Zachary Zimmerman and Graham Marceau (who also co-owns Corduroy Pie Company) shares this dream as co-owners of Say Hey Cafe. Say Hey Cafe brings forward the flavours of New York Hoagie style sandwiches to Vancouver. This spot is cozy and simplistic with a small curated menu. But don’t be deceived by the small menu, as each hoagie is packed with fresh ingredients, bursting with flavours in every bite, proving once again, quality over quantity. Besides serving hoagies, Say Hey is home to an exotic drink fridge and an assortment of candies, perpetuating sentimental throwbacks to our childhood days. Check out our Behind the Counter with Zachary as he speaks on their business philosophy, menu and being situated in Chinatown.
TEAMCHOMP: Hey Zachary, How did you and Graham meet and become business partners to start Say Hey Cafe?
Zachary: Shortly after G moved to Vancouver from his hometown Niagara, he fell in with a couple of my longtime friends from high school. Like minded food industry boys. Over time our paths started to cross and naturally we became friends. I’ve always been inspired to open a restaurant, as a child with my mom’s unreal home cooking and later as my friends developed into very talented chefs it continued. They all played a part, helped me along the way. But it was Graham in the end that stepped up and said, “If you wanna open a Meatball Hoagie shop, I’m down”.. and that was it. We already had the friendship and trust established, so it was just a matter of the details.
T: What was the process like designing Say Hey Cafe and bringing the physical location to fruition?
Z: The process was a pleasure for the most part. I can’t say it didn’t come without its obstacles and challenges, many city/permit related. But in all honesty, Say Hey is a product of the talented people around me. I am so fortunate to have the friends and family that I do. From contractor advice, tradesman, and the very talented Knauf & Brown design team to Graham coming on board in the kitchen, and lots of our opening staff were friends and some of Grahams team from Pie Co. This place would not have been possible for me without this endless help and support. It really makes coming to work easy when the workplace constantly reminds me how fortunate I am.
T: How were you two inspired by submarine sandwich shops in New York and Philadelphia? Why did you want to bring this to Vancouver?
Z: The submarine or Hoagie style sandwich has always been a longtime favorite of mine, it’s all about the bread for me. It was New York that introduced me to great sandwiches, I would find a place I liked and make my way through the menu. I have a couple favorite spots that make unreal roast beef sandwiches and I was hooked. Whenever I came back home I would crave them and oddly enough couldn’t get a good roast beef anywhere, not how I needed it anyway. This conundrum played a large role in the inception of Say Hey, and has now been resolved as the Roast Beast sandwich (my personal favorite).
T: A drink fridge full of Asian drinks and also old school candies by the counter, some refer to it as a ‘flashback to childhood favourites’ – How was that curated? Does this provide a connection back to historic Chinatown roots and culture?
Z: The ‘flashback to childhood favorites’ pretty well sums it up. I grew up skateboarding all over this city, and a dehydrated kid with only a few bucks in his pockets is always keepin’ a look out for cool drinks. Over the years I’ve curated a bunch of favorites, mostly from rad little Filipino corner stores and Asian supermarkets. Say Hey has given me a place to have all the tasty treats under one roof, and it’s fun getting to introduce people to drinks like Sarsi and Apple Sidra. You can get a Cola anywhere.
T: Super Hero and Anti Hero are rotating daily features, what inspires the creation of these sandwiches?
Z: We always had a small menu in mind, I find too much choice overwhelming. We created the four mainstays as sort of our version of some classics that we felt weren’t available in the city, and that we loved. But we still wanted an outlet for a more fun and creative platform that we could play around with, and also felt a vegetarian option was something we could do our way, and super delicious. So the Super and Anti-Hero were born. Now we have an excuse to put potato chips in sandwiches!
T: Why the names Super Hero and Anti Hero?
Z: There’s a film from the late 70’s outta LA called “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich”, that I admittedly have never seen, but the name has stuck with me forever. It’s kind of become our little tag line, and when I was writing out the menu and coming up with names, I didn’t want anything too silly. But that quote was always in mind and it seemed so appropriate to name the features “Super-Hero” and “Anti-Hero” as a little tongue in cheek nod to the tag line.
T: A few months ago, a breakfast sandwich was added to the menu, are there plans to release more new items?
Z: We go back and forth with this. We always get ideas we’re excited about and consider, but ultimately we’re happy with our simple menu. Adding a sandwich, or refining our “On The Sides” options is always possible, but we’re in no hurry to overcrowd the menu. We do a handful of things, and we like to think we do them very well.
T: What are your thoughts on the current landscape of Chinatown with new restaurants and cafes opening up?
Z: That’s a slippery question, and I think it’s easy to get worked up over gentrification and what that means to different people. But from my perspective, I look around and still see entrepreneurs opening small business’, and that is a difficult task in a city like Vancouver with its cost of real estate. Chinatown is and always has been an area for hard working small business owners to make their own. I choose to look around me and feel surrounded by like minded people of all types, whatever their background or upbringing. I believe that it’s that mentality that will allow this area to grow in a healthy direction while also keeping its history and character in tact.
T: How would you describe Say Hey Cafe to someone visiting for the first time?
Z: To be honest I probably wouldn’t do a very good job, I’m not the best at the up sell. I’m more interested in hearing how someone’s experience was after their first sandwich. Like if you put me in front of a group of hungry people and told me to talk them into trying Say Hey, I’d likely just bring one of them a free Meatball Hoagie and let him tell his friends what’s good.
Written: Lana Ma
Photography: Rich Won