When Andrew Wong opened Wild Rice on the edge of Chinatown in 2001, there was nothing like it.
Pan-Asian fusion fare wasn't a thing, and the restaurant stood out for its cross-cultural cuisine. It also distinguished itself by focusing on local, seasonal ingredients, long before “farm to table” became a catchphrase.
In 2014, Wong—whose family has a long history in the hospitality industry in Vancouver—moved operations from Pender Street to New Westminster’s River Market, going with the name Wild Rice Market Bistro.
Now, he’s about to shut down his beloved business, a move that shows that the affordability crisis in the region isn't limited to prospective homeowners.
Wong announced the difficult decision in a heartfelt message posted on Wild Rice’s Facebook page. He expresses how increasingly hard it is for small, indie restaurants to survive in Metro Vancouver.
“Unfortunately the climate in the Lower Mainland for independently owned and operated restaurants is not good and worsening,” Wong writes. “We are all familiar with our high cost of living which is reflected in higher rents, increasing food costs and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff. This not only affects Wild Rice’s bottom line, but the increasing costs of living also affects all of us. Sadly, many of our guests now have less disposable income to spend on discretionary things like restaurant dining.
“After many, many sleepless nights, crunching numbers and speaking with people whose opinion I trust; I made the very difficult decision to close the restaurant,” he says. “Unfortunately it is no longer viable in our current economic climate.”
Wong’s grandfather, Wong Wam-Fung, was the founder of the Lotus Hotel—which is right next door to Wild Rice’s original location. His father worked as a server in the dining room at the iconic Trader Vic’s.
Wong started working in the restaurant industry when he was 15; five years later, he was enrolled in the hospitality management program at Dubrulle Culinary School while working three jobs.
At Wild Rice, he championed premium, seasonal, local, sustainable food, going on to become a charter member of Ocean Wise and the Green Table Network, which promotes environmentally sound practices in the food-service industry.
Despite this, and despite offering vegan dishes and Happy Hour specials and having a heated outdoor patio right on the riverfront, Wong has concluded that running the restaurant is simply no longer feasible.
Among the popular menu items at Wild Rice are Yarrow Meadows duck-confit tacos, siu mai dumplings, and chicken adobo ramen soup.
“I will leave with the satisfaction of knowing that together we created something very special at Wild Rice, and despite having to close, I will always treasure that knowledge,” Wong writes. “I hope you will as well.
“You have until the end of December to come in for one last taste of our Spicy Kung Po Chicken or of your other favourite dishes,” he says. “Thank you for your years of support and for believing in Wild Rice.”