Vancouver’s newest Tractor Foods a testing ground for the evolution of the concept

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Tractor Foods recently opened the doors to their fifth Vancouver location, and it’s an exciting harbinger for what the future of the “everyday healthy foods” chain will look like.

Taking over a former fast food Mexican joint’s space on Broadway at Ash Street in Fairview, the newest Tractor location is giving owners Steve and Meghan Clarke the opportunity to try out new facets of the concept that they hope to put in place in their forthcoming first foray into the Toronto market, their current Vancouver locations, and more locations to come.

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Photo courtesy Tractor Foods

“We joke that this is ‘Tractor 2.0′” says Meghan Clarke one recent blustery Vancouver afternoon, inside the new Broadway outpost. It’s a bright and airy 2,100 square foot space boasting 50 seats, with big street-facing windows, and the promise of an expansive patio–and adjacent courtyard cop-a-squat-style–seating to come.

Fans of Tractor’s cafeteria line mix-and-match menu will immediately recognize the restaurant’s offerings of fresh salads, soups, and sandwiches, available in single servings, in combo, or with protein add-ons. They also have entree salads, hearty stews, and health-minded treats.

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Inside the new Broadway location (Photo courtesy Tractor Foods)

For the Broadway store, Tractor’s menu has expanded to include a build-you-own bowl option. Capitalizing on the popularity and ubiquitous nature of “the bowl” as a preferred delivery method for healthy ingredients, Tractor offers the option of doing greens or rice topped with the diner’s choice of additional salads or servings from their new hot section.

They’ve worked a whole induction burner section into the line, which allows for Tractor Foods on Broadway to offer four hot sides, predominantly veg-centric–a major plus for Vancouver’s many wet and cold days when a cold lunch or dinner doesn’t appeal; look for the dutch ovens brimming with a warm cauliflower and quinoa pilaf, tender beef short ribs, or roasted beets and carrots.

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A peek at the new hot sides (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancouver Is Awesome)

One other major addition to the line-up here is their dedicated coffee bar. Serving 49th Parallel espresso and drip coffee, customers who just need a coffee can make a beeline to the barista, or you can order one if you’re getting a salad or bowl to enjoy, too.

Obviously the new additions cut into the real estate of the “line” at Tractor Foods, which is why you aren’t seeing the same “hot sides” section sliding in at their four preceding Vancouver spots; it’s a bit of a logistical challenge to make it happen right off, so you’ll likely see the build-a-bowl option come in sooner, as the Clarkes and theirĀ VP of Operations, Jim Nagy, determine how to make it work.

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Steve and Meghan Clarke with Jim Nagy (Photo courtesy Tractor Foods)

That’s the joy of having a “testing ground” at a new location, particularly with Tractor’s exciting leap into the Toronto market on the horizon. The Clarkes, who launched Tractor in 2013 in Kitsilano, didn’t follow up with the Marine Building location until 2015. However, in the last three years, Tractor Foods has expanded rapidly to include the Olympic Village, Robson Street, and now Broadway locations.

And will there be more? Clarke says yes, though nothing is in ink yet. They’ve always wanted to expand to foodie hot zones like Gastown and Yaletown, as well as in North Vancouver and Burnaby, among other locations. Meghan says her husband, Steve, particularly enjoys the process of finding the space, making the deal, and setting up shop, though the couple aren’t sure when–or if–they will feel like it’s time to step away.

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Building a salad bowl (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancouver Is Awesome)

The Clarkes haven’t necessarily set out to make Tractor the next Chipotle, though they did bring on Nagy when the scope of the operation began to be too unwieldy for the two of them to manage alone, particularly with the cross-country travel, and enjoying spending time with their two kids at home in Vancouver.

In the meantime, Tractor Foods is continuing to deliver the goods at their roster of Vancouver locations, including offering wine, beer, and kombucha selections, along with dinner service, and even breakfast (at Marine, Robson, and Broadway).

“We’re evolving,” explains Clarke, “but holding onto our core concept.”

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The coffee bar at Tractor Foods on Broadway (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancouver Is Awesome)

Tractor Foods’ newest location is at 601 West Broadway. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, fromĀ 7 am to 9:30 pm. Online ordering for pick-up is available.

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Lindsay is the Managing Editor of Vancouver Is Awesome. A fifth generation Vancouverite, she was previously the Food Editor of Daily Hive, Senior Editor of Vancity Buzz, and Editor-in-Chief of LAist.com. Lindsay grew up in Vancouver and Toronto, then spent over 20 years in Los Angeles, where ahe earned her Masters in English, attended culinary school, and was an English professor. Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancouverisawesome.com