As I drop below street level –my last glimpse of the surface is a flash of orange and brown. I take 20 minutes for the trip from Waterfront to Marine Drive; stepping outside, I am greeted by the same colour scheme.
I stop to consider this curious set of bookends, a geographic/temporal dysphoria usually reserved for malls and airports, when I catch the whiff of kitchen grease.
A&W was founded in 1923 in California; the first Canadian venue opened in Winnipeg in 1956. The Canadian division was sold to Unilver in 1972, and then purchased by the food company’s senior management in 1995. Although the companies share most branding and product lines, Canadian A&W has no corporate connection to its U.S. counterpart. A&W Food Services of Canada is headquartered in North Vancouver.
While the company ditched its drive-in service years ago, it continues to flog a vaguely “‘50s diner” orientation via a loud colour scheme, cutesy bear mascot, and a nuclear family of products (Baby, Mama, Teen, Papa, burgers etc), augmented and updated for the 21st century through a commitment to market “healthier” toxic quantities of sugars and saturated fats. Industrial foodstuffs, shilled the corporate way, with a generous squirt of “Teen Sauce.”
It’s the second largest fast food chain in Canada, with about 850 outlets and a “strategic thrust” to keep growing.
Exiting the Marine Drive Station into the shadows of Marine Gate, and A&W’s local growth strategy becomes apparent. It’s a player in the public-development-service complex that continues to transform the physical, social and economic space of the city.
Transit hubs are dramatically rezoned, enabling massive residential construction -a giant reef that attracts a supplementary round of deep pocket corporate capital to provide the punters with goods and services, those that can extract enough value to justify the substantial investment and rents.
In addition to outlets at Waterfront and Marine Drive, you can have your notional diner experience at Granville (Dunsmuir exit), Commercial-Broadway, Metrotown, and, Oakridge, with Main Street –and presumably others- coming soon.
That greasy odour? It’s merely the exhaust of the synergistic machine pumping out its special sauce. It’s the smell of money, lining some faceless shareholder’s pocket.