Railtown Cafe
By Jessica Napier

Teenage Culinary Star Turned Restauranteur

Born and raised in Vancouver, Dan Olson started his culinary training in high school and developed a passion for cooking at an early age. “It's all I know,” says the award-winning chef and restaurateur behind Vancouver’s Railtown Cafe and Railtown Catering. “I just developed a love for it. I started entering cooking competitions – and winning – when I was 15 years old. I never wanted anything else.”

After high school, Dan decided to forgo formal culinary school training and went to work in the industry right away, starting out at the Century Grill restaurant in Yaletown. Soon after, head chef Robert Sulatycky asked a then 19-year-old Dan to apprentice for him at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or world chef championship in Lyon, France. “Out of the 24 countries that competed, we came in fourth,” says Dan. “That’s the best that Canada has done still to this date.”

Following his success at the international competition, Dan’s culinary career took off. He worked with the Four Seasons chain for many years, travelling throughout North America. Later, he relocated to California to serve as the executive sous chef at the award-winning Beverly Hills Hotel and as executive chef at the acclaimed Hotel Bel Air.

Dan eventually returned to Canada in 2012 to help coach the Canadian team for the Bocuse d’Or competition. At that point, he decided to stay close to home, taking on a consulting project before partnering with chef Tyler Day to launch Railtown Cafe and Railtown Catering in Vancouver’s emerging Railtown neighbourhood.

We’ve got a great crowd and a loyal following, and that’s only continuing to grow. - Dan Olson, chef and partner
Chef and partner Dan Olson pictured manning the grill at Railtown's summer Tailgate Barbecue event in 2015.
Chef and partner Dan Olson manned the grill at Railtown's summer Tailgate Barbecue event in 2015. Photo courtesy of Railtown Catering; Photo credit: Jelger + Tanja Photographers
Delectable desserts at Railtown Cafe
Cinnamon bun bread pudding and other decadent desserts and pastries are all baked on site in the café's industrial-sized kitchen. Photo courtesy of Railtown Cafe

Exceptional Quality Without the Formality

Dan describes Railtown Cafe as a fast-casual spot serving comfort foods made with seasonal ingredients. “It’s exceptional quality without the formality,” he notes. Slow-cooked meats, fresh-baked breads, pastries, desserts, and made-from-scratch sauces, salad dressings and sorbet pints are all prepared on site in the industrial-sized kitchen.

The café menu features an array of signature sandwiches, salads and soups, as well as a made-to-order salad bar. “We try to keep it very simple but still offer customers a spectrum of variety,” Dan explains. “Besides switching up the seasonal salad ingredients every couple months, the base menu has remained the same since the very beginning.”

Menu highlights include a tender pork shoulder baguette sandwich topped with jalapeño and pickled vegetable aioli; a smoked turkey and provolone sandwich served atop fresh-baked sourdough; and a healthful kale salad mixed with asparagus, quinoa, artichoke hearts, fresh goat’s cheese and toasted almonds. The licensed café also serves up cold-pressed juices, kombucha, tea, coffee (available straight up or spiked with your choice of Bailey’s, Kahlua or Jamesons), wine and local craft beers.

Railtown's meaty Muffuletta sandwich
Railtown's meaty Muffuletta sandwich features ham, capicola, salami, mortadella, provolone, pickled peppers and spicy olive spread on a ciabatta bun. Photo courtesy of Railtown Cafe
The signature salmon salad is served with field greens, tomatoes, fennel, asparagus, oranges, olives and a house-made citrus vinaigrette.
The signature salmon salad is served with field greens, tomatoes, fennel, asparagus, oranges, olives and a house-made citrus vinaigrette. Photo courtesy of Railtown Cafe

Picnics, Weddings and Thanksgiving Dinner

As a full-service catering company, Railtown Catering offers corporate delivery services (dropping off sandwiches, salads, coffee and breakfast orders to nearby office buildings), as well as on-site catering for private events of all sizes.  “Our event catering department does everything from a picnic in the park for four people to weddings with 500 guests,” says Dan.

Chef-prepared holiday packages – Easter lunch spreads, Thanksgiving turkeys to-go and Christmas dinner packages – have also been a big hit. Individuals can pick up cold pre-made dishes to be cooked at home, or opt for hot entrees and sides that are ready to serve. “It’s really nice to be able to offer packages to people who don’t have the time or the knowledge to cook their own meals for their families,” says Dan.

Railtown Catering offers menus for private events both large and small
The full-service catering company offers a range of customized seasonal menus for large and small-scale private events, including corporate functions and weddings. Photo courtesy of Railtown Catering
The industrial interior at Railtown cafe is inspired by the neighbourhood
Railtown's garage doors and café interior are in keeping with the neighbourhood's industrial roots. Photo courtesy of Railtown Cafe

A Café for Railtown's Creative Community

Tucked away on Railway Street on the edge of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Railtown Cafe might be a little off the beaten track, but that doesn’t stop the bustling eatery from attracting crowds throughout the week. In fact, lunch-hour queues at the counter-service café often extend out the garage doors and down the block.

In recent years, the Railtown neighbourhood has evolved from a rough-around-the-edges industrial area into a creative hub for artists, fashion and design businesses, and tech start-ups. “There’s so much happening down here…the clientele that comes in through the week is extremely knowledgeable,” says Dan of Railtown’s emerging creative community. “We’ve got a great crowd and a loyal following, and that’s only continuing to grow.”

[Header image courtesy of Railtown Cafe]

Railtown Catering and Cafe's flagship location at 397 Railway Street.
Railtown Catering and Railtown Cafe are located at 397 Railway Street. Photo courtesy of Railtown Cafe. Photo credit: Jelger + Tanja
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