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Summer With Brian

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Story by Sue Dritmanis

If there is one commodity in short supply in Vancouver during the winter months, it’s sunshine. On a typical January weekend, locals don’t stroll Robson Street but rather hop briskly from one Starbucks outlet to another. On Granville Island, a few linger by the chestnut vendor, absorbing the heat from the gas-fired roaster. And on the sea wall surrounding False Creek, they are rarely to be seen at all.

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Which is why BMW guru Brian Jessel welcomes the arrival of summer with a smile the size of a grille on an X3 SAV. He loves his town when the sun shines, but what he loves even more is how the fair weather repopulates his favourite weekend haunts. “Winter is sleepy in Vancouver,” he observes. “But in summer everyone wakes up. There’s an energy, a vibrancy.

The weekend starts on Thursday night!” After a couple of busy summer nights on the town, Jessel is typically ready on Saturday morning to re-energize with an hour at his local gym, followed by a massage, a healthy lunch and thorough read of the local and national newspapers. Parked on his Kitsilano deck, staring thoughtfully into his lush, green backyard, he then considers the evening’s dinner menu, usually inspired by the barbecue nearby.

“I’m a barbecue-lover,” he admits, “but you’ve got to have the best and the freshest, which is why I go to Granville Island. You can walk around and compare. I might buy halibut from Long liner or salmon fillets from The Salmon Shop. I’ll go to Armando’s for meats, and Four Seasons for fruit and veg. It’s relaxed and friendly.” Back home, the Jessel pantry provides a few special finishing touches: flavoured salts from C Restaurant for the steaks, cedar planks to smoke the salmon, and Italian olive oil in which to toss the asparagus spears before they’re laid on the grill.

To accompany the meal, he’ll choose a few bottles of fine wine from the cellar, such as a Leonetti Merlot from Washington State, “if I’m lucky enough to have some inventory.” When he feels particularly festive, Jessel brings out the good dishes to serve everything on, a beautifully hand painted Art Deco set from France that he takes pains to point out, “has never seen the inside of the dishwasher.”

Paper plates and plastic cutlery, however, rule the day at Brian Jessel BMW’s monthly staff barbecues, held at the dealership from April to October. Organized by Brian’s energetic 83-year-old father and dealership gure,

Bernie Jessel, the lunches are a delicious and informal opportunity for team members to bond with each other and spend time with outside companies with whom Brian Jessel BMW has close and long standing relationships, such as AllWest Insurance. Recent events featured roast lamb and roast pork on the buffet, and a portable flat screen colour TV as the door prize. But the highlight of the busy summer season for Jessel’s hardworking staff is the off-site company barbecue, held for the past several years at Nat Bailey Stadium to coincide with an afternoon Vancouver Canadians baseball game.

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“I wish I’d discovered it earlier,” Jessel says with a grin. “It’s a fantastic location, and they put on a great spread with hamburgers and hot dogs and salads. We have face-painting and balloons and kids are welcome. After lunch we sit together in the stands and watch some great baseball. The first year we had 80 people. Last year we had over 100.” Assistant Parts Manager Charley Risley took his wife and daughters Deanna and Jessica, age 15 and 17, to last year’s event.

“It was an all-day adventure for them. They loved the hootin’ and the hollerin’. They’d never seen a live baseball game before,” he reports. Risley says “staff spirit is very high” at Brian Jessel BMW and the monthly barbecues and annual baseball outing only add to the already positive atmosphere in the workplace. He admits to feeling particularly happy when he became the lucky recipient of that snazzy 15-inch portable TV, “but you can guess who ended up with it,” the father of two teenagers says with a laugh.

Risley’s parts department is humming steadily all year, but May and June are traditionally the busiest months on the sales floor at Brian Jessel BMW. As the rain clouds give way to blue skies and sunshine, Cabriolet-owners eagerly push the buttons to peel back their cartops and head out to catch some rays, hair flying in the breeze. It’s a siren call to performance car-buyers everywhere, who flock to the dealership at this time of year to consider the latest options.

For Jessel, whose first paying job placed him squarely at the centre of summer car culture “I pumped gas as a boy in London, Ontario, when it was 19 cents a gallon,” he recalls the lure of the open road under optimum weather conditions is not as strong as you might think. “I’m not a Sunday drive kind of guy,” he admits. “I spend a lot of time in my car during the week.”

And he doesn’t necessarily get to choose his vehicle, either. “My sales manager controls the cars and I ordered a black M6 and I’m driving a silver one so that shows you how much power I have!” Nevertheless, Jessel has his favourite summer drives in the city:

from the office to Joey Tomato’s for lunch, located near his previous dealership location in Coquitlam; home from the office to Kitsilano in the early evening; downtown to Robson Street for shopping; and finally dinner in historic Yaletown, followed by a nightcap at George. “It’s got a great feel to it, and I always meet people I know there,” he says. It’s about as far from a solitary summer Sunday drive in the country as you could get. And that’s just the way the gregarious Brian Jessel likes it.

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