North America's largest Chinese eatery is becoming a partying place for Canada's political parties.
Conservatives, Liberals and NDP members alike hold events at the Floata Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver's Chinatown to raise money for their political causes - and reach the city's large Chinese population.
"(Former prime minister Paul Martin) has sat right here many times," says Antonio Hung, Floata's manager, one quiet Thursday afternoon following the lunchtime rush.
But it won't be a huge surprise for Hung if Harper or a few of his cabinet members show up during the next campaign.
|Bayne Stanley, Business Edge|
|Floata Seafood Restaurant manager Antonio Hung says his staff can handle multiple banquets.|
"I don't care whose party it is," says Hung, suggesting Floata is open to any party, regardless of its political pedigree.
Depending on whom you ask, Floata, which seats 1,100 people, is either a Vancouver landmark or a well-kept secret.
Hung believes it's known to most Vancouverites; but others, including some Chinese-Canadians, tell Business Edge they have never heard of it.
"I find that (lack of familiarity) very amazing, because Floata has been around for a number of years," says Bob Sung, who conducts walking tours of Chinatown's shops and restaurants.
Owned by a Hong Kong-based consortium, the eatery has been in Chinatown for about 10 years. Another restaurant by the same name in nearby Richmond was once jointly owned, but the two establishments are now separate operations.
It's no surprise political organizations like to hold fundraisers there because it's the only place - outside of a major hotel - that can serve 1,100 people, says Sung.
"Seating people at $150-$250 a plate, that means (greater) revenue, as opposed to a cocktail party for 50-100 people," says Sung.
Floata is well known to many politicians and their families and supporters.
Lynn Zanatta, companion of Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, noted that she and the mayor once attended three events there the same day.
When he was still a Liberal, embattled Trade Minister David Emerson slammed the Tories there. Ken Dryden, the former hockey star turned politician, Michael Ignatieff and other Liberal leadership candidates have also debated at Floata, which is located on the top floor of a shopping centre. And a dinner was held for NDP Leader Jack Layton there in 2004.
Hung says members of all parties and even visiting Chinese politicians have dined or spoken at events inside his restaurant.
Friends of Larry Campbell also held fundraising events at Floata before the popular former Vancouver mayor decided to retire from civic politics and accept an appointment to the Senate.
Floata has also been the scene of some memorable charitable events. The Robbie Burns Chinese New Year is held there annually.
This year, host Todd Wong donated the proceeds of his Gung Haggis Fat Choy event to help save the demolition of an old home in Marpole, on Vancouver's west side, that once belonged to Japanese-Canadian author Joy Kogawa's family. Kogawa recalls her years in the home and a Second World War internment camp in her award-winning book Obasan.
Walking tour guide Sung says the Robbie Burns event highlights Floata's ability to cook to its customers' specifications and add a little flair.
"They can use the original haggis and they would add a Chinese application," says Sung.
Stephen Wong, a local food writer, photographer and chef who hosts cooking demonstrations at Granville Island Public Market, says Floata is well known in the Chinese community. "It's well located in Chinatown," he says. "It certainly is a place that specializes in large-volume banquets."
He adds like other restaurants in Chinatown, Floata has seen a decline in evening traffic.
"Chinatown is not a particularly popular dining destination these days," he says. "In general, Chinatown is just quiet in the evening."
He says the "situation" on the Downtown East Side (DES) is one contributing factor. The DES, Canada's poorest neighbourhood, is plagued with poverty, homelessness, drug addiction and prostitution. The area has also garnered national and international attention recently as supporters of the safe-injection site fight to keep it open.
Manager Hung estimates Floata serves 5,000-6,000 kg of fish per month and 300 kg of tea per week. More locals tend to come in for lunch, but dinnertime sees a 50-50 split between locals and tourists, many of whom arrive from cruise ships on the nearby downtown waterfront.
Several companies also hold functions there.
Hung estimates the corporate crowd accounts for 25 per cent of the restaurant's revenue.
A staff of 60 has become used to serving large groups in the venue that can be divided into different rooms and supplies an LCD projector and large screen for presentations.
"(Serving so many people) is only difficult if there are four or five different banquets (at a time)," says Hung.
"Everybody has different food."
In addition to helping politicians raise funds, Floata donates gift certificates and prizes to sports groups and other organizations.
Hung says the restaurant is also hoping to serve several International Olympic Committee members, and hold special events during the 2010 Winter Games.
But he has not made any specific plans for attracting any Olympic-related business - yet.
When he does, Hung will know which politicians to call for support.
(Monte Stewart can be reached at email@example.com)