“We are really grateful that we are still open with the support of the local community. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here. We like to say thank you to North Vancouver and Lower Lonsdale for supporting us and believing in us. We are normal people and it is normal people that come in here.”
Meat at O’Neills offers slow roasted meat sandwiches and all day breakfast sandwiches with locally sourced fresh ingredients. What they offer though is something more than good quality sandwiches. Martin and Shari, a husband and wife team that also live in the Lower Lonsdale neighborhood, have welcomed guests as their friends and family. They always refer their shop as an extension of their living room and people will feel right at home the second they walk into the place. The O’Neills has created a true social hub in the community where everybody gathers around and where everybody knows their name.
VOICE(V): “How did Meat at O’Neills start?”
Martin(M): “I was born in Dublin, Ireland and my family was running a pharmacy business. I spent 23 years working for my family pharmacy before I decided to follow my passion for food and travel by moving to the south of Spain. My mother was a professional cook back in the days and I would often watch her host dinner parties at home on weekends. That’s where I got my cooking skills. I opened an Irish pub in Spain and met my wife Shari. After 9 years in Spain, we decided to move to Vancouver with our daughter. It took us almost a year to find a place to open another eatery like we had in Spain, a place to enjoy good food and people. When this tiny space once occupied by a Mediterranean Bistro in Lower Lonsdale became available, we spend 6 months renovating and upscaling the space to make it how it is now.”
Like any new comer business, the first year went very slow, but the business gradually grew year by year to the point where they have become a pillar of the community. The O’Neills has become a place where people just know it or find it and they keep coming back to hang out and eat.
V: “Why do people find your place so special?”
M: “There is nowhere like this. It is not necessarily about food and drink, but it is about people being able to socialize and to talk. In pre-pandemic times when you go to the bigger places, you see people sit in their seats and they don’t talk to the people around them. They only talk to the people that they are with. Our space is so small, with only a long communal table in the middle, so everybody starts talking. We are often compared as the “Cheers Pub” in the famous American sitcom TV series. People meet and they make friendships over a beer and sandwich.”
Shari(S): “We also hear from a lot of single females that come in and they say they feel safe to strike up a conversation without feeling awkward. People can just enjoy having genuine conversations and human interactions. We have all different walks of life coming in including street cleaners, doctors, teachers, and people from the church. Everybody gets talking without any judgement.”
A friendly local feel is certainly reflected in their menu as well. Almost everything they get at the shop is from local fellow businesses; bread from Cobs Bread, meats from Two Rivers Speciality Meats, and fresh produce from Foxy Market. They offer wines, Irish Whisky, ciders and a list of local craft beers to accompany with delicious sandwiches.
M: “Our space is so small that we don’t have a lot of storage,. When we run out of the beer, I can make a call to either Bryan at Black Kettle Brewing, Liam from North Point Brewing or David in Bridge Brewing and it’s here in a couple of hours. Even Anthony from Steel&Oak Brewing in New Westminster, will deliver a keg as soon we call. They are all fantastic. When we go to Foxy Market for our produce, we know everybody by their name.”
S: “Everything you see in the shop comes from our locals or regular clientele as well. We started filling up our bathroom and walls around inside the shop with unique little gifts that people bring in from their home or hometown. Things like a calendar, message cards, photographs, and paintings. Speaking of paintings, one of our guests has brought in an old drawing of his great uncle’s wharf on the Sunshine Coast from 1800s! It is so pretty. There is a story attached to everything we have here.”
V: “How have the latest restrictions affected your business?”
S: “It was a bit more difficult than the last restrictions this time last year, because there was absolutely no notice given for this one. Most restaurants buy their supplies on Mondays. Martin was already out getting our supplies for that week when the restrictions came in. He came back with everything, and we were told that we weren’t able to have dine in for 3 weeks! It was crazy.”
M: “It is difficult enough for big restaurants, certainly these small places like us, it is very difficult. This is where you get the support of the community. People have realized fast that our business was going to be down, so they started calling in for take out orders. Everybody has been very supportive, ordering beer and sandwiches to go. I still feel like it is a bit of a bonus to be able to offer patio dining and take out compared to last April when we were completely closed down for 2 months.”
V: “Has the patio been helping your business?”
M: “Our patio offers just enough space for 3 people to sit but it still serves as a good store front to show people that we exist and that we are open.”
S: “ It is so lovely to see our locals sit on the patio as a show of support. They would sit with their jackets when it is still cold outside or with umbrella under the rain, just to support us.”
V: “What would you say is the biggest pandemic lesson?”
S: “It is giving people an opportunity to spend more time in the community and to realize just how much a small business is worth in the community. Whereas before, people were more adventurous and going out to different places and trying different things. Now they realize that they’ve got everything that they need in their neighborhood. People have realized that home is where the heart is. They don’t need to go in distance to find something that is really good and enjoyable. It is right on their doorstep. It has given us an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate what we have.”
In just less than an hour of VOICE interview, there were many locals calling and popping in for take out sandwiches. We met Shaun a barber from across the street, Liam from North Point Brewing, and even a new comer in the neighborhood who said he had been meaning to check this place out! Even though indoor dining is halted, the O’Niells stands strong as a meeting point for the community.
NOTE: There are also special offerings on every Thursday and Friday for a good quality comfort food dinner. The idea of the weekly special usually comes to Martin a day before, and it ranges from Oriental dishes to Indian curries to Jambalaya. So make sure to ask him what is for the weekly dinner special when you are out and about down the Lonsdale Avenue.
On the week of VOICE interview, Martin was cooking a Sweet&Sour Pork dinner. A week after was Nasi Goreng. Looking back his notebook, the last time he cooked Nasi Goreng was July 2nd last year!