Bartender Jay Jones leaves Donnelly Group for "dream job" with Canucks

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One of the city’s top bartenders has been drafted by the Vancouver Canucks. Jay Jones won’t need to lace up his skates—just yet—but the newly minted director of wine and beverage for Canucks Sports and Entertainment will be responsible for all drinks served at Rogers Arena starting August.

“It feels surreal,” Jones tells the Georgia Straight in a phone interview on July 9—the day after the announcement was made at Canucks’ Summer Summit. “I’m still at Donnelly [Group], and I’ll be there for another couple of weeks. Donnelly has been incredibly good to me and I was not looking to leave them, but for me this is a dream job opportunity.”

Jones is the executive bartender and brand ambassador for the Donnelly Group, which owns nearly 20 restaurants, pubs, and clubs in Vancouver. For the past year, he has spent most of his time at the Blackbird Public House & Oyster Bar, where he oversees the beverage program—including the restaurant’s scotch bar—and represents the restaurant group in the public.

“We basically relied pretty heavily on Jay to streamline all our food- and cocktail-focused initiatives,” Trevor Kallies, the beverage director for the Donnelly Group, told the Straight in a separate call. “As it stands, that role will fall on my shoulders, and we’ll rely pretty heavily on our brand team and our PR company to fill the void he’s going to leave behind.”

Kallies said the Donnelly Group was informed that Jones would be leaving around the same time the Canucks announcement was made. There is no plan in place for who will succeed Jones.

“Obviously with something like that and a position like that, there’s always an element of confidentiality and secrecy on their side,” Kallies said. “In terms of actively looking to replace him, Jay’s been a huge part of this company more than once, and he’s not a guy you can just pick up the phone and find a replacement for. … If the right person crosses our path and we can find a fit for them, we’re super happy to bring them on board. We’re always looking for great people.”

The Canucks organization has been actively recruiting talent—on and off the ice—for the past few months. This spring, Canucks Sports and Entertainment, which oversees Rogers Arena, terminated its contract with Aramark, a third-party company that provided concession services during events. In May, Canucks hosted a hiring fair for up to 1,000 positions.

“The hospitality systems at the arena have changed and are now an internal department,” Jones confirmed. Robert Bartley, the executive chef for Canucks Sports and Entertainment, is another recent hire. “All the roles are new and the Aquilinis [owners Aquilini Investment Group] are building a team.”

Jones said that the company’s March acquisition of Toptable Group—which owns Vancouver restaurants Blue Water Café + Raw Bar, CinCin Restaurant + Bar, West Restaurant, and Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Café, as well as Whistler’s Araxi Restaurant + Bar—was also a strategic move for the Aquilini Investment Group.

“It’s all part of the grand intention to continue to improve the hospitality experience and increase quality at the arena,” he explained. “Having a well-experienced and eager team is all part of the recipe for creating a great fan experience from top to bottom.”

While Jones can’t confirm exactly what changes will take place—such as whether craft beer or a Canucks signature cocktail will be added to the menu—he assured that his mark on Rogers Arena’s beverage program will be accessible to everyone.

“There’s going to be quality development on all levels of food and beverage and hospitality—everything from the quick-service beer counters to service available in the club section and suites,” he said. “Every single fan that comes in for a game or a concert is going to have an even better hospitality experience.

“The Canucks fan base that goes to a game is incredibly diverse and I want to be able to address every level of interest, from pouring a beer properly and making it cold and fresh to get you back in your seat, to food and wine pairings with the chef in some of the suites or for special events, and absolutely everything in between,” Jones continued. “My responsibility covers every beverage that’s going to be served in there, so it’s incredibly exciting to know that I can try and affect the beverage experience of over 18,000 people on a nightly basis.”

Meanwhile, at the Donnelly Group’s Blackbird, Kallies said that head bartender Cam Brown will likely play a bigger role at the restaurant. Kallies, who has worked at the Donnelly Group for 10 years and is responsible for beverage development and costs at all of the company’s restaurants, is also looking forward to stepping behind the bar and shaking up cocktails more often.

Kallies and Jones worked side by side at the Donnelly Group’s Granville Room in 2006. He said that while Jones will be missed, Kallies and the Donnelly Group are excited for him.

“I couldn’t think of a better fit for a guy to do a beverage program for that team. He’s the biggest fan I’ve ever met,” he said.

Jones told the Straight that while being a fan of hockey was not a requirement for the role, the Vancouver-raised bartender has been devoted to the Canucks for as long as he can remember.

“My enthusiasm for the Canucks as a team has been a lifelong thing and it’s second only to my enthusiasm to create a better environment for drinkers in Vancouver and for service providers,” he said. “This is something that I had never really imagined I could achieve because until recently, I didn’t think that was something—a job opportunity with the Canucks.”

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