After remodeling Grays Restaurant & Bar at the Vancouver Hilton over the past year or so to include a spacious outdoor patio, a larger bar space with a roll-up door that opens to the outside and more, the restaurant saw a record-breaking August as far as business is concerned, according to Mike McLeod, general manager of the Vancouver Hilton.
“In July and August this year, each month was up about 40 percent over last year,” McLeod said. “Summer has typically been a slower time for us because people want to be out on patios, which is why we did this (added the patio). The roll-up door, as well, brought in a lot of additional business.”
Over the past year, McLeod said they worked on renovating the restaurant and bar, officially opening in early summer. The restaurant first opened, along with the Hilton, back in 2005.
“It took a little over a year, the whole process took a little longer than we wanted, but we’re very happy with it,” McLeod said of the remodel. “The feedback has been amazing. We wanted to tone (the atmosphere) down a little, we wanted to make it inviting whether you’re wearing shorts or a suit. We wanted to make the bar a little bigger, and the patio has been a hit so far.”
McLeod reiterated that the addition of the patio really brought in a lot of extra business during the summer months. He said people enjoyed coming out to the patio for lunch, happy hour, etc.
“This winter, if it’s nice out, we’ll turn on the fire pits and people can come out,” he said. “We’re very happy with how everything’s turned out.”
Current culinary team leaders at Grays are Executive Chef Troy Lucio and Banquet Executive Sous Chef Patricia Dahms. Lucio said they really took a different approach when designing the menu for Grays, aiming for an urban pub/gastro pub feel with comfortable foods that are still well presented.
With the fall season underway, Lucio said they are offering some great fall dishes, including a very “comfortable” version of a turkey pot pie. He said the pot pie is made with house-smoked turkey and a savory crust that is made from a shortbread cookie. Also for the fall season, he said they are making a braised short rib, served with a cauliflower lasagna, roasted Brussels sprouts and charred mushrooms.
As far as fall sweets are concerned, Lucio said they have a nice apple cobbler that is baked right to order using their countertop convection oven, as well as a carrot cake that is presented in a snap-lid jar, complete with candied organic rainbow carrots and toasted coconut.
Lucio was trained in Italian, French and international cuisine by the Italian Hotel Management & Culinary Institute. He worked at some great places across Italy, Germany and California before relocating to the Pacific Northwest in 2005. He joined the Hilton team in 2007.
“I love this area, the Pacific Northwest, the cuisine that comes out of this area is great,” Lucio said. “Here, produce is very seasonal, you have to really become clever with how you apply those items during the season and take full advantage of those items during the season. Like right now we’re coming up on sweet potatoes, squashes, mushrooms, etc.”
The Grays culinary team gets some of the seasonal produce that they use from their very own rooftop garden that is above the restaurant. Lucio and Dahms said they have four beds up there that just recently showcased tomatoes, strawberries, lemon cucumbers and a variety of herbs. This was the rooftop garden’s third season, and the two chefs said they were potentially thinking about growing some winter produce up there.
Dahms, who is still relatively new to the Hilton’s culinary team having been in her position for about six months now, said she has been in the Pacific Northwest for her entire culinary career. She started working at restaurants in downtown Portland when she was 17, and also attended culinary school in Portland. She spent a big chunk of time working at Jake’s Grill in downtown Portland.
“I always cooked from when I was a kid,” Dahms said of her love of cooking. “I always thought I would be a pastry chef, but when I went to culinary school there was no pastry chef program. I still attended (culinary school) and realized that I had a knack for cooking, I really enjoyed it. I still also really enjoy playing with different pastry options. I do a lot of baking at home.”
Dahms said that among the many reasons she enjoys working for the Hilton, one of the main ones is that working there has created a better work/life balance as a mother working in the culinary industry.
Lucio said some of Grays most popular menu items have been their bacon-wrapped prawns, their signature mac ‘n cheese, their pub burger, halibut fish and chips, and their well-known nacho tots.
Over the summer months and into early fall, McLeod said the restaurant saw a lot of early/mid-afternoon business that they had never really seen before.
“Sometimes it’s just beverages and appetizers,” McLeod said. “For breakfast, lunch and dinner, we’ve been seeing a lot more local guests, even for breakfast, which surprised us a bit. The weekends during the Farmers Market (in the summer), we saw a lot of people discovering the patio for the first time. Not only does the restaurant itself do amazing business, but we also do a ton of business in catering in addition to regular restaurant business.”
Although the Grays remodel is done for the time being, McLeod said they are still learning and figuring out what other things they might want to tweak and change in the future.