Restaurant review: A nice slice of D.I.C.E.D., unprofitable by design
Vancouver Sun June 29, 2022
D.I.C.E.D. operates a restaurant, catering company, cooking school and meal delivery program but is primarily a social enterprise business
Written By: Mia Stainsby
When: Tues. to Thurs., 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday to Thursday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday to Sunday.
Info: 778-997-8057. Also, at dicedculinary.com
Don Guthro’s resumé reveals an elastic personality — and body.
Guthro, who trained at the National Ballet of Canada and Royal Winnipeg Ballet, had a short career with San Francisco Ballet until he landed a triple tour, or airborne turns, on his knee, shattering it. He has a degree in commerce and in the culinary arts. He has cooked at The Savoy in London, was executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Dubai and was the director of hospitality management and culinary arts at the Vancouver Art Institute, now LaSalle College Vancouver.
Today, he runs a business with several moving parts and his goal is to stay unprofitable. Crazy, some might say — and do.
The moving parts of his umbrella company, A Plus Projekt Ltd., are Culinary Choreography Catering business, daily meal delivery service to 700 needy souls, D.I.C.E.D. culinary school, and D.I.C.E.D. restaurant. Plus, the company has donated money to meal programs in London, Malaysia and the Philippines via an international organization. In the works are plans to start a product manufacturing division and a food truck.
The catering company and the restaurant currently help fund an at-cost cooking school. The meal delivery program, under contract with a couple of social agencies, makes no profit.
D.I.C.E.D. — acronym for Diverse Innovation in Culinary Educational Development — is best known as a restaurant near Jericho Beach, with great burgers and beer. Cheap! And good! In the kitchen is a top-tier chef, Quang Dang, formerly the chef at Araxi and the late West restaurant. He had a life reset after suffering a stroke in 2018 where his “brain exploded,” as he describes it. He accepted the job offer from long-time friend Guthro and his wife, who had mentored him as a newbie to cooking.
“I like that it’s a fun, comfort-food menu and that this job is so versatile. It’s still about enjoying cooking. If you can’t respect bacon and eggs, then you’re never going to respect foie gras and truffles,” Dang says. “I honestly hope working with Don creates opportunities and more workers in the industry.” And, he adds, many of his friends visit him there more than they ever did at West or Araxi.
In the 14 years preceding the pandemic, this social enterprise model fully sponsored 684 marginalized students to its culinary school, training them to provincial standards. During the pandemic, training moved online with a wider national reach for people already working in restaurant kitchens. The fee, $895 plus tax, covers basic costs in contrast to between $17,000 and $40,000 at other private culinary schools.
“Basically, I saw a disconnect between culinary schools and students,” Guthro says. “It’s very, very expensive and out of reach for so many. Then they get into the industry earning minimum wage and have to pay off big debts,” he adds. “Less than 10 per cent of students stay in the industry more than three years and I realize there’s not a ton of opportunity.” D.I.C.E.D. training allows them to work and study and bypass debt.
The Cuddle Burger, at Vancouver restaurant D.I.C.E.D., got its name from a server in the cold of winter.
The Cuddle Burger, at Vancouver restaurant D.I.C.E.D., got its name from a server in the cold of winter. PHOTO BY MIA STAINSBY
Growing up with a single mother who raised five kids, Guthro knows life is not about equal opportunities. “It’s why I try to give back so much.” Operating as a business rather than non-profit means he doesn’t have to answer to anyone and can pivot and make changes quickly, he says.
The food at D.I.C.E.D. is pretty much comfort food, cooked with respect and reverence. And — get this — the D.I.C.E.D. burger with local beef, house-made sauces, cheese, pickles and locally made potato buns created to their specifications, at $5.95, costs less than a Big Mac. Upgrade to the Cuddle Burger with chargrilled onions and crispy fried onions, and it’s $7.50. The latter was named by a server, in the cold of winter, who described it as “a cuddle from Don” and the name stuck.
Albacore tuna taco with cabbage and herb slaw, shaved cucumbers, lettuce, wasabi mayo and crispy onions ($7.50 each) featured dewy fresh tuna. Beetroot salad with feta cheese, radishes, toasted hazelnuts, sprinkles of chive flowers and dijon vinaigrette ($7.50) is a big, bright, healthy bowl of goodness.
And the daily soup was a dense vegetarian stew, rich with flavour from a long-simmered stock, then blitzed with some of the veggies.
The burgers and the classic breakfast with two eggs, bacon, sausage, ham or avocado and hash browns are the restaurant’s biggest sellers. The popular Louisiana-style biscuits that come with breakfasts are sold separately with butter and jam.
Other dishes on the lunch menu include grilled or crispy chicken sandwiches, poutine, pizza and a daily pasta. Desserts are hit and miss — ask and they just might have a crème brûlée or cheesecake or bread pudding — but are more likely to have some brownies, butter tarts and squares.
And there’s beer, cocktails and wine with an option to bring your own for a corkage fee.
Plus for the summer season, on Friday and Saturday evenings, there’s live music on the patio.