Chandler’s Seafood Restaurant becoming English pub

Chandler’s Seafood Restaurant has new operators who are turning the historic brick building at the foot of Yates Street into a “classic” English gastro brewpub.

Chef Sam Benedetto, the lead in a new ownership group that includes partners from Zambri’s and Big Wheel Burgers, said the 70-seat restaurant will be rebranded to the Guild Freehouse and feature dozens of craft brews from the Pacific Northwest and a menu of English food favourites. An opening is planned for June 1.

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It’s a sweeping change from Chandler’s Seafood, a mainstay downtown for more than two decades that has been popular with tourists but suffered decreasing local traffic over the years, said Benedetto.

Building owner Brian Karam, an Ottawa lawyer, has closed the two-floor restaurant over the fall and winter months for the past five years.

Benedetto said the top floor, which has about 80 seats, will be developed at a later date.

“Just from the people I’ve talked to — and a lot of them have lived here a long time or from here — I’d say more than 95 per cent said they’ve never eaten there,” said Benedetto.

That’s going to change, he said.

Benedetto, whose mother is from England, spent four years in London working in pub kitchens while his wife did her post-graduate degree there. He developed “a real love” for the pubs and how life revolves around the establishments in a way that’s different here. “There are moms with kids and strollers having a half pint and something to eat. It’s very civil. I liked that.”

Benedetto said English pubs are increasingly using ingredients from small farms and value their local producers — also prevalent on the Island and a something that he will use when preparing the menu for the Guild Freehouse.

“It’s about going back to classic — great beer, great food and nothing too over the top,” said Benedetto. “I want to do away with some of the pretentiousness that’s kind of crept in [to some restaurants] and go back to traditional ways of food done well.”

That will include sausage coils made in-house with buttermilk mashed potatoes, steaks with home-made HP Sauce, beef-mushroom and chicken pies, mussels and chips, beer-brazed brisket, cheese toast and Scotch eggs. Seafood will remain on the menu, with salmon dishes, salt cod, and curry and chips.

It will be open for lunch and dinner all year.

There will be at least 10 beer taps and up to 30 varieties of bottled beer. All of the brews will be from smaller breweries in Victoria, the Lower Mainland and Washington and Oregon.

There will be no brands from North America’s major brewers, which is where the Guild Freehouse gets its name. Benedetto said drinking establishments in the past were often tied to major brewers and served only those beers in bars.

“If someone wants a Budweiser, we’ll have knowledgeable staff to recommend something that’s similar.”

The old Chandler’s will get a minor makeover.

The building at 1252 Wharf St., is a downtown landmark, known for the giant mural of orcas — A-5 Pod painted by Robert Wyland — on its north side. Known as the Yates Block and a registered heritage building, it was built in 1882 by James Yates and designed by John Teague. It housed dry good and grocery companies, but was best known as a ship chandler with various operators running marine hardware businesses. In the 1980s, it became Gallagher’s Restaurant and, soon after, the aptly named Chandler’s.

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