Olo is Chinook jargon, a pidgin language of the Pacific Northwest that spread throughout the
coast during the 19th century. Its rough translation is “hungry,” as in what you’ll be when you
enter in the doors of lower Chinatown’s 112-year-old heritage brick building and catch the
alluring scent of Chef Brad Holmes’ “smart simple” food.
OLO opened in late February 2015, a fundamental shift from its former upscale and precise
incarnation, ulla, operating since 2010 when Brad and his wife Sahara Tamarin moved from
Vancouver. A desire to simplify life and escape the big city drove the couple’s decision to skip
across the Straight to Victoria. Industry pros both, Holmes had cooked at Feenie’s, West, Chow
and Cibo Trattoria while Tamarin worked front of house at Parkside, Chow and Cibo. When they arrived in Victoria, there were no restaurants that fit their expertise and culinary aims, so they opened their own. Ulla quickly garnered great acclaim; the artistic, modern European tasting menus a first for Victoria and drawing attention from points far beyond the island’s shores. Fast forward a couple of years, now with a young family, Holmes “grew tired of 16-hour days of forging the chef-driven restaurant path in Victoria.” And importantly, once the family had settled and put down roots they quickly became connected to the community, and wanted to do something for
that community. The shift to OLO grew organically from that seed.
Now, in the bright, brick and beam room, family sharing plates have replaced tasting menus.
“Sharing food engages, opens conversations,” muses Holmes. “There is still less of a food
conversation here than in Vancouver because the community isn’t as big, but the people who
are interested, are fully invested.” Holmes works directly with many growers, farmers and
breeders, with 80% of ingredients grown organically (and aims to make that 100% in the
future). He buys ethically raised whole animals from local farmers, utilizing all the animal plus
using the opportunity to teach junior and apprentice staff in the kitchen. “That’s the future –
more work. All the good stuff in life is hard work. Growing a garden, raising a family, running a
business.” Describing OLO’s menu, he proudly affirms “There’s a farm and a piece of land
involved with everything.” That ethos is readily apparent in new seasonal dishes like chorizo
and octopus with Fraser Valley rice, romesco and sorrel, or warming plates such as Manilla
clams topped with garlic, lemon, parsley and white wine grilled bread.
Naturally the bar program follows closely. Last year Holmes tapped local bar legend Shawn
Soole to revamp the beverage program for OLO. Soole focused on “simple, fresh, local” in the
creation of the tight cocktail list and wine program. His consultation resulted in numerous local
spirits and wines filling the list. The Foraged and Found aperitif is an alluring example: Stump
gin, Okanagan Spirits maraschino, Odd Society bittersweet vermouth, hop drop tincture and
picked fir tips, presented up in dainty vintage glassware.