Picture this: soft blues on a low hum, floor-to-ceiling windows hugging a small stage filled with musicians, knee-tapping, and wide-mouthed smiles taking it all in. Local art graces every inch of available wall space. This feels like home. And that’s just night one. Come back the next night and savour the soft, rhythmic flow of imagistic poetry being shared in a cozy space in the back room where each artist revels in the fact that they have this place to be artists. And, if you still want to mix it up, come back again the next night and you’ll be taken on a rock ‘n’ roll journey where local bands own the stage doing what they do best. A place for music, theatre, art, and more. Finding a place is half the battle for most artists, and we’ve been holding our breath—until the Heritage Grill. Exhale.
On May 28, 2005, a gem was born. Located at 447 Columbia Street in downtown New Westminster, the Heritage Grill opened its doors to an already thriving and close-knit community. From day one, the Heritage Grill catered to every type of artist conceivable. Finally. A spot that wasn’t only about food and quickly “turning” over tables, but a place built on the promise of being a second home for anyone who wants it. This is—in my opinion—a rarity in a city all about “making a quick dollar.”
With a background in nightclubs and looking for a way out, Heritage Grill owner Paul Minhas— who grew up in Vernon and came to the lower mainland just after high school—arrived in New West with visions of jazz clubs, blues bands, and creating that “place to be.” When asked what he did in his spare time he replied, “what spare time?”
“New West wasn’t ready for what I had in mind,” says Minhas. From live poetry, improv comedy, and blush shows to drag shows, the Heritage back lounge has given first starts to so many, including The Heritage Artist’s Society.
Paul Minhas has been advocating for artists in every single intersection for twelve years. Candice James of Poetry New West, (a local reading series that takes place every Sunday afternoon in The Grill’s back lounge, former Poet Laureate for New Westminster, and newly-dubbed Poet Emerita of New Westminster), speaks highly of Paul and The Grill. “I consider Paul Minhas to be the foremost “Arts” corporate citizen in the city. He has been a solid supporter of all my literary and artistic endeavours by donating time, space, and funds to the events I have held at the Heritage Grill. Poetry would never be as highly-visible in the city as it is now without Paul Minhas’ generous spirit and support.”
We are living in a time where diversity and the idea of inclusivity sits heavy on the tongues of leaders in the arts. Paul Minhas doesn’t blink an eye when reaching out to support local artists because it’s something he does naturally, a goal for many of us as leaders in our given fields. “I don’t want to be just another restaurant.The people that support us wholeheartedly support us. Statistically, if I was just another restaurant, I wouldn’t have made it,” says Minhas.
“Times are changing, people are changing, demographics are changing.” The Heritage Grill is keeping up the pace without ever losing its original appeal. In addition to the Grill, Minhas also owns Judge Begbie’s, which is just down the street. While maintaining the sports theme, this pub is definitely a reflection of the Heritage Grill. Where else will you find a Celtic Acadian night where the crowd is encouraged to join in? One of the most intriguing nights, in my opinion, is Friday’s Memphis to Orleans. Although a different vibe and space, there’s no doubt in my mind that Judge Begbie’s will be a game-changer for new people moving to the city.
With the pace at which neighbourhoods change, New Westminster is proud of the Heritage Grill, and for good reason. In thinking about the city as a whole, strolling past the heritage houses that line the blocks in Queens, I think about Paul’s words: “New West is a small city within a big city. We want to stand out. Kits is Kits, Commercial is Commercial.” It’s obvious to me that New West has a unique voice of its own and exudes this unexplainable energy that is in no way muted by the shouts and screams of its surrounding big sister cities.
If you haven’t yet been inside the Heritage Grill, one of the most immediate things you will notice is the mirrors lining the entire right side. This is a very intimate thing: watching yourself come in, and watching yourself leave—changed. There’s something to be said about leaving with a sense of place and knowing that if you look back on your way out that it won’t be your last. There’s a trust there and, for the most part, it’s unspoken. I thought about the motivation behind lining the walls with mirrors, and wondered if it was an intentional thing. I almost stopped in my tracks to turn back around and ask, but I kept walking, hands deep in my pockets, thinking about the mirrors and how many people in this city stopped to enjoy the space, even if just for a moment, and how many have just stopped to reflect.
Before I left, I asked Paul what he would do if he wasn’t running the Heritage Grill. His answer was perfect: “I would buy a one-way ticket somewhere, pick up my backpack, and never look back.”