Five years ago, 1,200 people, each dressed all in white, descended on Jack Poole Plaza for Vancouver’s first Dîner en Blanc. The iconic Paris-based soiree is a pop-up-style picnic held at a location that stays top secret until the last minute. It’s a global phenomenon, but thanks to Jordan Kallman and Tyson Villeneuve, last summer’s event in Vancouver was the largest Dîner en Blanc in Canada and the third largest in the world.
It speaks to Villeneuve and Kallman’s ability that these large-scale events succeeded at a time when the city was still shaking off its “no-fun city” reputation. Their company, the Social Concierge, creates experiences for the masses—think Dinner by Design, the Deighton Cup and the Oktoberfest celebration Harvest Haus. They aren’t cheap to produce, but they’re transporting events that create mini-experiences within the greater whole, and, most importantly, they seem to have captured the attention of the millennial set and demonstrated that yes, Vancouverites are willing to gather by the thousands to drink a glass of wine in a public square.
To make it work, however, the pair needed to prove that B.C.’s draconian liquor laws could be adapted for large-scale outdoor events. (Pre-Dîner en Blanc, most liquor-related events forced celebrants to be housed within caged beer gardens. Hardly an elegant experience.) “I think, if anything, what we were able to do was trigger a little bit of a mental shift that these types of events can work,” says Villeneuve. “If we can be a catalyst for positive change for people to experience things in their own city in a unique and different and engaging way, then that’s a hat we are happy to wear.” Photo: Carlo Ricci.