Cast an eye down from the Cambie Street Bridge on a lazy Sunday morning and you’ll doubtless spot a bright-orange, circular boat drifting around False Creek. Squint a little harder, and you might catch a glimpse of the writing on the craft’s side: Joe’s BBQ Boat.
Opening his business for its first season in 2015, Joe de Keyser saw an innovative way to combine two of Vancouver’s favourite pastimes: bobbing on the water and firing up a grill. Halfway between a pleasure craft and a floating kitchen, the rentable vessel allows residents to soak up some rays, relax with friends, and bring their own meat to flame on the onboard cooker.
“The city is, in general, a very outdoorsy place,” de Keyser says, reached by phone in Victoria. “There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the ocean, but most people don’t have the money to buy a boat. Our crafts are a great way for someone to drive out on the water without needing a boating licence. It’s also really common to see people going to the beach or the grassy areas by the seawall with their little disposable barbecues. I thought, ‘Hey, what happens if we combine both of these things?’ It seemed to be exactly what people were looking for.”
Originally hailing from Belgium, de Keyser had his first experience with a BBQ boat in his native country. After his mother organized a family trip to cruise along a lake with some sausages on the grill, he knew that he had to bring the idea back to Vancouver.
Although the boats are already in about 40 countries, de Keyser introduced the concept to Canada—and his work on improving the experience has made his fleet some of the best craft around the globe.
“We use electric engines,” de Keyser says. “My manufacturers didn’t recommend it at first—they said that it would affect the power of the boat. But it was important to me to run a green business, so I was one of the few people to really push for it. The benefits are that the engine doesn’t smell at all and it doesn’t make any noise. When I tried out the barbecue boats in Europe, they were really loud and the fumes from the fuel kept going into your face when you were trying to eat. We solved that problem, and now the manufacturers endorse the electric engines in their crafts across the world.”
The water between the Burrard Street Bridge and Science World is the boats’ playground, and de Keyser believes the uniqueness of the experience and the changing view of the city are the reasons that he has so many repeat customers.
“The thing that everybody loves most is the combination of the relaxedness on the water and that the round table means up to eight of your friends can chitchat and all see each other. It’s such a fun concept that it’s caught a lot of attention. People feel a little bit like rock stars in the water because for the two hours you have the boat, paddleboarders and kayakers will come up, take pictures, and ask questions. And it’s pretty good value at $19 per person for an hour.”
Joe’s BBQ Boat docks at Granville Island and operates from April until the end of September. Having opened a second location in Victoria this week, de Keyser is confident that he’s onto a good thing.
“In Vancouver, it’s mostly the locals that rent our boats, and it’s less of a big thing with tourists,” he says. “I’m excited to see what the business is going to be like over on the Island.”