Vancouver Restaurateur Open Controversial Religion-Themed Food and Beverage Concept

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By Helen Siwak

If there is something you need to get off your chest and are feeling the call of Confession, forego climbing the cathedral steps, and pull up a stool at Hail Mary’s at 670 East Broadway in Vancouver. Order what’s on tap, a panko-crusted deep-fried avocado, and make yourself comfortable as you wait your turn to duck into the crushed velvet ‘confessional.’

Hail Mary's is the latest Canadian food and beverage concept to utilize religious symbolism and controversy to sell its wares, joining the likes of national chain Sweet Jesus ice cream and Vancouver-based Perverted Ice Cream, among others. 

Hail Mary's is the newest member of the East Broadway & Fraser Street community, contained in a brick-clad 650-square-foot holy ‘hole-in-the-wall.’ Decorated in shades of blood red and black with gold stencilling, Hail Mary’s is a retro kitsch kitchen and bar offering an eclectic menu, good range of local alcohol and spirits, and a collection of iconography that would make a nun blush.

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  Haley White

Haley White

  Mike Zalman

Mike Zalman

The location is no doubt diverse. If so inclined, the owners of Hail Mary’s, Haley White and Mike Zalman, could stand at their door and feast on food from around the world. Across the street is the newly-launched zero-waste Nada Grocery, to the west is Pizzeria Barbarella, Filipino Siga Siga, and Chinese main-stay Anna’s Cake House; to the east the fragrant Noor Convenience and Donair.

With a legal capacity of 30 seats, and a build-out time of 40 days and 40 nights (really), the duo has packed a lot of character into the tiny space. When asked about the inspiration for Hail Mary’s, White explains: “The concept for the aesthetic of Hail Mary’s was born out of a strong appreciation for religious iconography and imagery,” and adds that there may have been “a message from God” involved.

White was the general manager of Whip Café at 6th and Main for three years, and Hail Mary’s is partner Zalman’s third restaurant. He also owns and operates two Slickity Jim’s – one on Main Street and the other on West 7th. All three restaurants have a style reflective of a Gen-X mindset that fondly embraces the past and does not mind taking a poke at things revered. At Hail Mary’s the extensive use of Catholic iconography is not meant to be a statement about the church but about embracing the imagery and the sentimentality that these images hold in the memories of many.

Although the location has only been open for two weeks, White already has their customers pegged. “Disenfranchised Catholics, iconophiles, East Van locals, our wonderful friends, tourists, people getting off the back door of the B-Line bus, Mom and Dad.” 

With a staff of six, the duo split time with White in the front-of-house taking confessions and orders, and Zalman in the kitchen wearing a ‘The Sin is Within’ Hail Mary’s branded t-shirt whipping up Korean Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Vegas Vegan Burger, Nachos, a tangy Watermelon Salad, and Mac & Cheese. Like the neighbourhood, the menu has something for everyone.

Highlights are the unisex Sinners and Saints washrooms, The 7 Deadliest of Sins signature drink, and a coffee nook that my Polish Baba would sell her soul for.

Not willing to reveal the cost of the venture, White teases that it was “a small piece of our souls.” Which begs the question, is competition that fierce in Vancouver’s restaurant scene with the addition of lines of food trucks, and gut-wrenching trends like poutine, tacos, poke/pokerittos, and ramen gripping the city, that a soul sacrifice is required? We may never know, but with another Strange Fellows Cider under my belt, I may be enlightened.

From a business perspective, the addition of Hail Mary’s into the west coast landscape, in the footsteps of the Sweet Jesus expansion into Canada and the United States, and Perverted Ice Cream heating up on Vancouver's Robson Street, could this be the beginning of a trend in blasphemic businesses? Heaven only knows! 

Helen Siwak is the publisher of EcoLuxLuv.com Magazine, a freelance content creator specializing in retail and luxury lifestyle. She is a regular content contributor to Boulevard Vancouver (English & Chinese), Retail-InsiderBLUSH Vancouver, and has lifestyle blogged for StyleDemocracy and Daily Hive. When not writing, she is attending fashion events, traveling, and advocating for animal/human rights. helensiwak@yahoo.com.

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