It’s also an Italian meets American (BBQ) love story.
“My major passions are creating spaces that people feel comfortable in and creating concepts that speak to people,” says Andrew Jameson, director and owner of Say Mercy! restaurant.
The popular Fraserhood restaurant opened in January, just two months before the pandemic hit—and hit restaurants especially hard. But it’s the restaurant’s adaptability and commitment to community (plus an ample amount of elbow grease) that’s helped establish itself as a stand-out success. And, of course, the “comforting” flavours of the American BBQ-meets-Italian menu make all the difference, too.
Below, Andrew fills us in on Say Mercy!’s tight-knit team, smoky-sweet speciality, and the best part of running the show.
On how the team came together:
“Ten years ago, my wife Katie and I were working in Toronto in the service industry with Chef Sean Reeve and Antonio Cayonne. And then we all happened to find our way to Vancouver. When I found out that our team was in town, I acted on a space down in Railtown and we built out that restaurant (The Mackenzie Room) in 2015.”
And then you had the itch to start another one…
“In 2018, we started feeling like we might want to take on a second project. Chef Sean’s background is actually in classic Italian cuisine, but his first love, in cooking, was always Southern American barbecue. We started thinking about what might be fun, and we knew we wanted to do something a little more playful.”
As for the restaurant’s name…
“We wanted the food to reflect decadence and be on the verge of overwhelming in terms of flavour profile. That’s where the name “Say Mercy!” comes from—it’s that submission to the food experience.”
Name a Say Mercy! specialty.
“One of our foundational menu items is our BBQ Bolognese: a traditional type of Italian ragu (tomato-based braised beef, pork and veal pasta sauce). Instead of using the classic tomato paste, Chef Sean makes a barbeque sauce and braises that down with the ragu, creating this smoky-sweetness served over bucatini noodles. It’s really a perfect melding of the two cultures together.
“Both of these cuisines are born out of simplicity and using what’s available. In Italy, they use cornmeal and call it polenta; in the US, they use cornmeal and call it grits. There are slight variations between the two styles, but these are overarching themes that are easy to take and run with, and plate in various ways.”
When COVID hit, Say Mercy! was at the forefront supporting people in need with meals, and then you launched take-home Collective Goods. How did these initiatives come about?
“When we [temporarily] closed for the pandemic, we switched to running a program called Staff Meal. We took donations and used that money to fund meals for people facing food insecurity from COVID.
“And then we had a lot of people ask if we were offering anything to take home, to serve dinner for their families. And so we launched another program called Collective Goods, where we put together meals in brown paper bags full of roast chicken, Parker House rolls, salsa verde, and roast potatoes.
“We’re actually looking at a brick and mortar space for Collective Goods. I think food is something that people are really craving—that comforting feeling that you get from a nourishing meal. And we’re just figuring out ways to get it to them.”
You’re highlighting community organizations like the Aboriginal Front Door Society, Black Women Connect Vancouver, and QMUNITY on Say Mercy!’s Instagram. Tell us more.
“With the immense civil rights movement that was very much at the forefront of our thoughts through most of the summer, we took a step back to really think about what we’re injecting into people’s lives. Is everything a “sell”? Or, do we have an opportunity to engage with our community in a different way that still supports our values. It still makes people aware that we are people they might align with, but it also gives them an opportunity to explore something they otherwise may have missed.”
Your Fraserhood community is pretty special, too.
“There are a lot of young businesses like Earnest Ice Cream and Pizza Carano starting to move into the neighbourhood. Just before we opened, Dave Gunawan opened Ubuntu Canteen. I’ve always really respected his products, and I was really excited to be in the same neighbourhood.
“You can grab a pizza and a beer at Carano. You can have some natural wines at Ubuntu, or you can go there for breakfast. You can come to Say Mercy! for an extravagant tasting menu with Italian wines you may not have experienced before, or you can have B-Side [Say Mercy!’s outdoor café that serves cheesesteak and pulled pork sandwiches]. Prado makes beautiful coffees… JJ Bean is in the neighbourhood… We have all the dynamics that offer comprehensive dining for the community.”
The best part of running Say Mercy! is…
“I love our staff… And I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished here. I’m looking forward to putting the pandemic in our review mirror, obviously, for the community, as well as just getting the room back to its bustling self. It’s really fun to be in this room—and it’s fun to explore this new concept.”
4298 Fraser St
Vancouver, BC V5V 4G2
Photos by Katie Cross Photography:
1. Say Mercy! exterior on Fraser St
2. Director/Owner Andrew Jameson
3. Shrimp & Grits (Anson Mills grits, shrimp, mussels, fennel, Calabrian chili)
4. Say Mercy! interior
5. Parker House Rolls
6. The team (L to R): Andrew Jameson (Director), Sean Reeve (Executive Chef), Bailey Hayward (Service Director), Mat Bishop (Chef de Cuisine), and Antonio Cayonne (Operations Director)