An Ode to White Spot

Photo: WhiteSpot.com

Oh White Spot . . . Where do you fit in Vancouver’s bold new dining scene, with its daring international cuisine, its chic resto-pubs and its tapas bars?  Is there still a place in the city’s sophisticated culinary landscape for your Legendary Burgers, Triple-O Sauce and Pirate Paks?  Or are you merely a relic of the past, a vestige from a simpler time with simpler tastes, destined to go the way of the dinosaur?

I had a chance to stop by a White Spot earlier this week.  I’ll admit I was a little reluctant at first, with so many other options out there these days.  But, from nearly the moment I walked in the door, I knew I had made the right choice.  In a Vancouver restaurant scene cluttered with trendy eateries and trendier eaters, White Spot offers something absolutely unique: zero attitude, zero pretension; a decent meal and great service at a fair price.

Photo: ugonnaeatthat.com

This formula – hardly a secret – probably explains why the White Spot franchise has been in business since 1928, when none other than Nat Bailey opened the flagship restaurant in Vancouver’s Marpole neighborhood, at 67th and Granville.  Over the years, as the city evolved so did White Spot.  For a long time, up until the early ’90s, many restaurants featured old fashioned drive-in dining – Carhops would bring orders right out to diners’ cars, serving up meals on long trays that stretched across the seats.   In recent years, the still expanding White Spot empire has opened locations on 11 BC Ferries, as well as in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Seoul.

But that isn’t to say that White Spot is hopelessly stuck in the past.  In fact, any true White Spot fan knows that the menu these days goes well beyond burgers and fish ‘n’ chips.  I was surprised to find Thai-style prawns, beef stir fry and two different kinds of curry on offer (The butter chicken – while hardly authentic – isn’t half bad).   The ambiance, too, has evolved over the years.  Gone are the carhops and combo meals.  In their place is a casual, comfortable dining room – nothing too fancy, but a far cry from fast-food decor.

But – above all – what I noticed was the come-right-in, make-yourself-at-home atmosphere.   Unlike many a Yaletown dining room, here no one was out to impress or out-dress anyone else.  There were big families celebrating at tables, young couples out for a cheap date, kids with Pirate Paks, seniors, business types and – amazingly – plenty of people simply dining alone.

Photo: ImOnlyHereForTheFood.com

At the table next to mine was a grey-haired pensioner all by himself, poring over the menu.  Whether he was simply out for a night on his own, divorced or widowed, I never found out.   What I did notice, however, was that he felt right at home in White Spot.  The server came to take his order and, after a little friendly back and forth, I overheard him say, “You know, I always look at this menu, and I always end up ordering the same thing – clam chowder, a Caesar salad and a Legendary.”

Any other White Spot fans out there?  Please weigh in by leaving a comment below.  Is White Spot a real Vancouver institution?  Is there something special about those Legendary Burgers?  Or is White Spot just another fast-food joint?

Remy Scalza

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22 Responses to An Ode to White Spot

  1. Pauline

    True enough, I have held that impression of White Spot for quite some time. This changed when I took a visiting friend there, mainly out of convenience. My friend and I were both in our early 30′s, and dining at a restaurant where seniors love to hang out almost made me feel a little guilty. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the menu offered sandwiches and salads that had some international influences. “Contemporary” is probably the right term. I never really doubted the quality of food there, just the selection, so we had a great meal and enjoyed friendly service from our waiter (which we often take for granted in Vancouver). I think my friend was actually quite happy to have dined at White Spot as it’s truly very representative of Vancouver.

  2. Whenever I travel out of the country…I feel something is missing….no hamberger tastes like a White Spot Hamberger…and when I return almost the first thing I do is to visit my local White Spot to enjoy that SPECIAL Cheeseburger Platter with Triple O sauce and fresh cut fries!!!

  3. karen tsang

    mmmmm. triple o. I would just request that they start serving locally sourced grassfed beef burgers, so that I could trust ‘em and feed ‘em to my kids. I would pay a premium.

  4. Nano

    I would brush my teeth with Triple O sauce if it wasn’t weird.

  5. Teresa

    We went to White Spot today & enjoyed a new dish, “Chuck Currie’s Favourite Burger” with portebello mushroom, bleue cheese, & triple O sauce. It was so delicious!!

    I’ve been going to White Spot for over 45 yrs & I still love it. I do miss the Chicken Picken meal but I enjoy all the new dishes too.

  6. Sandra

    our White Spot (Coquitlam) still has the car hops and long trays – totally fun in the summer!

  7. Joyce

    I live in the UK but visit Canada a lot, particularly Vancouver. I was there for the Olympics. A visit wouldn’t be the same without eating at the White Spot. I even managed a visit to the WS in Whistler. I travel alone and the WS was one place where I did not feel out of place when dining. The WS burgers are tasty and it is excellent value

  8. Borgie

    Over thirty years ago, I vicariously enjoyed the White Spot’s Pirate Pak with its grilled cheese, fries, chocolate coin in foil, and ice cream through my pre-school daughter. We had just moved from Toronto with no White Spots to Vancouver, so we were intrigued by how a simple burger could be deemed “legendary.” After the first visit, my daughter was hooked. Often when we were driving somewhere, and she got hungry, she would repeat, “I wanna go to the White Pot, ” knowing that eventually we would succumb. It is still the “White Pot” to me. And I still wonder what I missed growing up in Toronto.

    • Borgie,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I can just picture your daughter digging in to that Pirate Pak . . . though I imagine she’s no longer quite the “White Pot” fanatic she once was.

  9. Marie

    I ate at the White Spot on Granville in Marpole until it burnt done that fateful night and I watched it from my bedroom. My grandmother, a very beautiful lady who always wore a hat and gloves on her hands would drive my sister and I when we were young to the White Spot dining room on Sundays, without our parents, while we wore our finest clothes, where we would eat chicken pot pie and vanilla ice cream for desert. That was “out” time out together.

    That dining room was classy – unlike any of their other restaurants and many currently in Vancouver.

    However since 1985, I have been unable to eat at the White Spot because I have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease and the inability to eat wheat, rye and barley. I need to eat a gluten free diet.

    Sure, in the 1980′s and 1990′s restaurants did not know how to deal with people with Celiac Disease, however in the 2000′s that all changed. There are Joey’s, Cactus Club, and 50 more restaurant chains in North America with Gluten Free menus for their patrons. Not the White Spot.

    Is the White Spot going to look into offering a gluten free menu and serve people with Celiac Disease? At the BC FoodService Expo 2010, April 25/26th, which is a private conference for members of the BC FoodService Association, a high up executive in White Spot came by the Celiac Association booth and told us that they will never have a gluten free menu. We talked to him for a while but he was very firm in his thoughts and convictions that gluten free would not be in the White Spot. How is that for adapting to the times and being a community friendly restaurant? I wonder what good old Nat would think of this thinking? Probably turning over in his grave at being so close minded to such a dedicated community where a Celiac drives where a group goes to eat based on where they are comfortable eating!

    1 in 133 people has Celiac Disease, many more people are eating a gluten free diet by choice. The market is huge. Why do you not join it White Spot?

    • gladys

      hey, some white spots now offer a gluten free menu, although of course there is still risk of cross contamination, you can also always ask for the allergy book although it is quite confusing. your server can help you choose a gluten free option from the book.

      • Marie

        Thanks for your input. I, as a long time diagnosed Celiac do not eat at restaurants that do not have official Gluten Free menus. I have been in contact with the White Spot about their future intentions in having a gluten free menu. I believe the “menus” out there right now are not White Spot approved. I had dealt with a White Spot executive at a private restaurant industry tradeshow, who is no longer with the White Spot I understand, who provided myself and others who were with me exhibiting at the tradeshow incorrect information about White Spots intentions. The White Spot now is looking into dealing with all the processes involved with creating a gluten free meal such as checking ingredients, cross contamination, instructing staff on the needs of a person with Celiac Disease where it is medically necessary that they eat gluten free and that they are able to get safe meals. After 27 years of having Celiac Disease, due to issues I have run into in trying to eat at White Spots, I only eat fruit there now.
        The Canadian Celiac Association – Vancouver Chapter has materials that can be provided to the White Spot or any other Greater Vancouver restaurant as they introduce gluten free menu items or a gluten free menu, which is preferred. We tried to give the materials which we were handing out for free to this person from the White Spot who approached us at the tradeshow, however he refused to take them. They are available from the Vancouver Chapter and you just have to contact info@vancouverceliac.ca to get them.

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  11. Thank you White Spot fans!

    We are proud of our 80 years of history & wide appeal and keep evolving our menus, decor and service to keep you coming back for our Legendary burgers and new fan favourites. Coming across this blog lets us know we’re on the mark!

    A note regarding gluten free menu items… we are currently developing some gluten free menu items we hope to have available in our restaurants soon. In the meantime we’re happy to help you modify any existing menu item to ensure you enjoy your meal with us.

    Whether enjoying a summer treat in one of our 11 car lots, brushing your teeth with Triple “O” sauce (it’s not weird!) or enjoying new fan favourites like Chuck Currie’s Favourite Burger, thanks for cheering us on and we look forward to serving you in the future!

  12. Kayla

    I too, do not eat gluten by choice and I dine at the White Spot quite frequently. There are a lot of gluten free options. They are not advertised as such, but if you ask your server they are so helpful and eager to serve your needs. All you have to do is ask and they will deliver.

    • Marie

      There is a big difference between “do not eat gluten by choice” and having Celiac Disease. You do not have to have every ingredient in your food checked or ask that your plain chicken or omlette be made in a separate clean pan and HOPE that the cook does that and does not use the grill where products containing gluten have been cooked. There are many restaurant chains that have now eclipsed White Spot and published GF menus and done the ingredient checking, prepared a space in the kitchen where GF meals can be prepared, addressed cross contamination with their staff and also trained their wait and cook staff on what Celiac Disease is and how you cannot just substitute an item or throw it on the grill as all the pans are dirty. That is the difference between choice and a medical diagnosis that if one does consume gluten they can develop other auto-immune diseases or intestinal cancer. You can try and eliminate gluten on a diet by choice but do not have to eliminate it all like people with Celiac Disease do. That is why I only eat the fruit cup most of the time at White Spot. I have heard that a couple of White Spots you can get a burger wrapped in lettuce instead of the bun but it is not a chain wide practice – it seems to be in the Kelowna area. If you were there when a White Spot executive told a group of Celiacs at an industry show that the White Spot is not in the market to do gluten free, incinuated that people who eat GF are a pain and we all stood there and were in shock with his bluntness you will understand where I am coming from. They have missed the boat and the Celiac community is aware of that. It reminds me of the post a couple back which questioned what function is the White Spot actually doing in this market now? Without the senior population – where would they be?

  13. Hi Marie,

    Thanks for your comments. We’d like to talk to you directly to discuss your concerns.

    Please call Cathy Tostenson at the White Spot Home Office 604.321.6631. Hope to hear from you soon.

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  16. Kathy Pridham

    Mom, dad, my sister and I went to to the white spot on west broadway many times in the late 50′s and early 60′s. We sat in the car and had the ‘hops’ bring out the food on two separate trays, one for the front seat (mom and dad) one for the back. Mom used to get ‘Chicken Picken’s or Chicken in the straw. We always got the hamburger. Didn’t have to call it legendary back then, it was just the burger. Didn’t have to ask for the ‘triple o’ either, it’s just the way it came. They don’t have this gem in the east coast (pity me) so when I get a chance to get west, I satisfy my craving with a fix or two (or maybe 3) of that special legendary burger and a cup of clam chowder. Oh how I miss them, but it makes it that much better when I do get a chance to have one again.

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  18. Rob

    There are still at least 2 White Spot drive-ins in Vancouver that I know of — one on Marine Drive and the other on Broadway. My kids like the drive-ins better than going into the restaurants.

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