Stephen StinsonThe Mission Tap House & Grill
At The Mission Tap House & Grill, the soft click of pool balls fades into music and laughter as you move through different sections in the upscale, Kelowna pub. Attracting a mix of neighbourhood locals and visiting skiers, golfers, and summer beach-goers, the place hops year-round – and for good reason.
Owner-operator Stephen Stinson took over the former 160-seat Pheasant & Quail Pub a year and a half ago, expanding the newly rebranded The Mission Tap House & Grill to 220 seats. “The tap house idea is new in Kelowna,” he explains. “Part of the Mission Tap brand is that we doubled our craft business.” The pub now boasts 20 taps, 75% of which are BC brands, including the Okanagan’s own Tree Brewing and Big Surf Beers.
“We change the taps all the time,” Stephen describes. “Distribution and logistics have improved so we can now access more new and interesting BC brands.” Other top choices on tap hail from Seattle, Oregon, Portland, and Quebec.
An evolving pub menu is aligned with Mission Tap’s craft beer concept. Okanagan wines and local ingredients are other menu stars. Known for great burgers, the pub’s “hero products” include novelty burgers like the peanut butter and jelly burger, oddly in-demand by all ages. Specialty flatbreads are popular too, most notably the Okanagan pear, brie and prosciutto with the option of a gluten-free shell. With nearby beaches in mind, the pub built a basic kids’ menu when the liquor laws changed July 1, and saw a rise in sales last summer.
When it comes to recent trends in cocktails, The Mission Tap House & Grill is old school. “There are no blenders; everything is shaken or built,” stresses Stephen. “There’s a real retro move to traditional cocktails and premium scotches, tequilas, and vodkas.”
He describes the modernized The Mission Tap House & Grill as “urban contemporary, but simple, warm, and friendly.” Big at 6,000 sq. ft. with intimate sections, fireplaces, high and low wooden tables, chalkboards, and TVs, the pub is a popular gathering place for everyone from seniors and young families to singles, large groups, and sports teams.
The common appeal, according to Stephen, comes down to “creating a comfortable environment where you can go to enjoy time with your family and friends.” Sounds simple, but it’s a winning formula that he has developed over a four-decade long career in the restaurant and bar business.
Stephen started out at The Keg Steakhouse & Bar – Ottawa while studying business and sciences at Carleton University. From there, he worked at The Keg’s corporate office in Vancouver, later making a temporary move to New Zealand to open a Keg bar franchise. Stephen is proud of the 38 years he spent with the Canadian chain, pronouncing: “It’s a great brand. I learned a lot that allows me to do what I do now.”
Today, Stephen also owns and operates the high-energy The Train Station Pub in a brick and stone historic CNR train station, built in 1927 in Kelowna’s core. With 10 craft beer taps, urban music, and a vibrant menu of shareable dishes, The Train Station Pub often generates weekend line-ups.
As for choosing busy Kelowna locations for his pubs and eateries, Stephen cheerfully states, “I’m beating my own drum.” He sat on the Tourism Kelowna board for close to eight years and is a former president of the Downtown Kelowna Business Association. “I love the downtown, which supports my interest in Kelowna as a tourism brand and destination.”
After 28 years as a Kelowna booster and well-known city restaurateur, Stephen knows a thing or two about how to draw in local residents and tourism crowds. He’s about to embark on another downtown venture, opening the new Black Bear Bar and Grill on Water Street in a historic Kelowna landmark building. The 6,000 sq. ft., 218-seat Black Bear Bar and Grill will have nine craft beers on tap, an Okanagan wine list, and what Stephen calls a “very approachable, accessible menu. People won’t feel intimidated.”
He plans to showcase the heritage nature of the two 1928 buildings he’s leasing a block from Okanagan Lake “bringing out the brick and wood” with plank floors and heavy wood ceiling beams. Former Delta Grand Chef Stuart Klassen has been consulting on a new menu with a focus on seafood.
As with all Stephen’s enterprises, he’s aiming for wide appeal. “We want to bring a lot of fun downtown and hope people will embrace it and bring their friends.”