A successful agent and casting director for over 25 years, Maureen Webb, 52, along with her sister, Donalda Weaver, recently welcomed foodies to the opening of their first restaurant. The latest establishment to open in a revitalized Chinatown, East of Main Café boasts a laid-back vibe, smart cocktails and an eclectic menu that is drawing many to the evolving ’hood. The eatery instantly impresses with high ceilings and original works prominently featuring images of the Downtown East Side. With almost two decades of cocktail experience, Colin Turner, formerly of CinCin, fronts the bar and innovative cocktail program. Handcrafted classics and original creations utilizing fresh ingredients complement chef Jenny Patsula’s Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. But what separates Webb and her sister’s East of Main concept from other establishments is its mission and desire to give back.
How is East of Main Café different from other restaurant ventures?
What makes East of Main different is that all profits are donated to the Project Limelight Society, a free performing arts program for children living in Vancouver’s East Side. The café, which has a studio upstairs, also provides meals and snacks to the Project Limelight children during each rehearsal and workshop. Our goal is to provide a safe place for children to build an artistic community, to inspire them to discover their inner strengths, build confidence, explore their hidden talents, and form lasting friendships. Our vision is to create a community of support for young people as they make their way through their most formative years. Above all, Project Limelight is about giving kids opportunities and having fun!
How did the idea come about?
Project Limelight and East of Main Café came about 18 months ago while on a soul searching trip to Europe after our mother passed away. My sister and I wanted to use our combined experience and skills in performing arts and fundraising to offer a safe place for youth to pursue passion and education.
How does a casting director get involved in the restaurant business?
My sister and I have many wonderful memories of gatherings, surrounded by great food and drink. It’s how our family celebrated. Our dream was to create an intimate spot where Vancouverites could come together in a beautiful environment, eat food that can be shared and drink fantastic cocktails. Our vision for Project Limelight developed at the same time. We asked ourselves what type of social enterprise could help sustain Project Limelight, provide food security to the participants and generate a buzz about the charity. East of Main was born.
There must be an easier way to fundraise for Project Limelight than operating a restaurant?
Absolutely, but our goal is to create a social enterprise that provides sustainable cash flow apart from traditional fundraising.
What are some of the projects the society has supported?
Project Limelight works with children aged 8 to 15. Each session is four months long and runs three days a week. Our last production of ALICE was performed in front of 600 people at The Fei and Milton Wong Theatre at SFU Woodward’s. Currently we’re in rehearsals for an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz to be staged in February. The children recently performed at Strathcona Community Centre’s 40th Anniversary Celebration and The Heart of the City Festival.
Project Limelight has had the support of some impressive people including Sir Richard Branson and GLEE’s Cory Monteith. How did they come to learn of Project Limelight?
I met Cory more than 10 years ago, long before GLEE, and when I told him about our idea for Project Limelight he was immediately supportive. He believed, like we do, that the performing arts can be an amazing vehicle for young people to develop self-confidence and find passion and purpose in their lives. Cory, who volunteers for Sir Richard Branson’s not-for-profit foundation Virgin Unite, had the opportunity to tell him about Project Limelight. When Sir Richard came to town to launch Virgin Airlines in Vancouver earlier this year, he stopped by East of Main and presented Project Limelight with a generous donation. It was amazing.
How can people get involved?
That is the beauty of East of Main Café. To get involved guests simply eat, drink and have a fabulous time at the café knowing the profits will be donated to the Project Limelight Society.
What is the ultimate goal of your organization?
To help young people realize their full potential, by fostering self-esteem and building self-confidence. To build a ‘kick-ass’ watering hole, with great food and cocktails, that will sustain Project Limelight and other youth programs in the area.
Getting the word out. We want Vancouverites to discover how fun and enjoyable it is to eat, drink and give.
Best life lesson you’ve learned?
One lesson you’d love to give others?
Fake it ‘til you make it…and quoting Kevin Spacey, “I feel it’s a responsibility for anyone who breaks through a certain ceiling to send the elevator back down and give others a helpful lift.”
One thing you could change about the world?
One thing you hate most about the world?
One thing you wish Vancouverites would stop whining about?
Vancouver is a No Fun City.
What was your ‘a-ha’ moment?
Being on stage for the first time, at the age of eight, at my local community centre.
Three words to live by?
Eat. Drink. Give.
Most thankful for?
My sister Donalda.
A talent you possess that many are not aware of?
I can do The Robot.
One thing you can’t live without?
Sense of humour…and Diet Coke (but working on that one)
Last $20 bucks to your name, how would you spend it?
I’d double down.
Best place for coffee?
I don’t drink coffee, but I hear East of Main makes a great latté.
Verace Pizzeria in Gastown
Favourite greasy spoon?
Moving to New York at the age of 22.
Last book read?
Horns by Joe Hill, research for a film I’m casting.
All-time favourite movie?
The Rocky Horror Picture Show .
Hanging out with the Project Limelight kids.
Favourite sports team?
Not a sports fan but I can jump on a bandwagon faster than anyone.
Last place travelled?
Amsterdam and Ireland.
Best thing about this city?
The mountain and ocean air – it’s the first thing I notice when I arrive back to Vancouver airport.
Worst thing about this city?
The misconceptions people have of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Your favourite neighbourhood?
Community event, festival or gala that you look forward to every year?
Vancouver International Film Festival and Eastside Culture Crawl
The one place you take out-of-town visitors to show off our city?
Who inspires you?
The volunteers who work hard to make our community better, the amazing people who feed our kids, provide clothing and shelter to those who are less fortunate.
Local person you most admire?
Ron Suzuki, Community Recreation Director at Strathcona Community Centre.
Most memorable celebrity encounter?
I recently casted a movie directed by Robert Redford. Best job interview ever.
If you could be any celebrity?
I imagine it would be pretty awesome to be Tina Fey, but I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.