our history

From Coffee Shop to Community Institution: The Story of the Tomahawk

2 min read
Chuck and Chick Chamberlain in front of restaurant
Chuck (left) and Chick (right) Chamberlain

Our story is rooted with the life of Chick Chamberlain, its founder and owner since it opened in 1926. Even before 1926, Chamberlain was in the restaurant business on the north shore. It all started in the early 1920s, when Chick and his brother opened a small coffee shop in a cabins-to-rent operation in what is now Heywood Park in North Vancouver.

And then, as fate would have it, Chamberlain's culinary beginnings led him to open his own restaurant on Marine Drive, right where the Norgate Shopping Centre stands today. This was no ordinary eatery - it was the one and only Tomahawk Barbecue, Vancouver's very first drive-in restaurant. Picture it: Cars would drive up to the front, Chick would come out to get the order, go back in the restaurant to cook it, then deliver it to the car. There was only one caveat with the drive-in: rough terrain. Chamberlain admitted that it didn't really work out too well, as in its time the roads and parking spots were not paved.

Tomahawk Barbecue in 1930s

But the drive-in aspect of the restaurant wasn’t the main business anyways. Business inside was pretty steady despite the economic challenges of the Great Depression that had arrived in the late 1920’s. Chick was usually busy keeping the customers in his 14 stools happy, with bellies full.

horseshoe stools layout with grill in the middle
Horseshoe seating layout

Inside the Tomahawk, the stools were arranged in a horseshoe pattern, with the grill positioned right in the middle. It was an arrangement that allowed customers to see everything that Chick was doing. And with everyone gathered around the grill, there was always plenty of lively conversation to be had, making the Tomahawk not just a restaurant, but a true community hub.

The original 14 stools have been recovered since those days, and are now at the counter in the present location.

Original Tomahawk Barbecue stools from 1930s
Original stools at the counter

Before the days of the Lions Gate Bridge, the Tomahawk was the place everybody met on the North Shore. If there was a school dance, you could find a bunch of kids there when the dance was over.

When Chick first started out, he was far from a master chef - in fact, he freely admitted that he didn't really know how to cook at all. But with his characteristic determination, he set out to better his skills. He even began growing his own mushrooms, making his own pickles, and raising his own chickens, ensuring that every ingredient was fresh, locally sourced, and bursting with flavor. A commitment that we bring to our customers today - fresh and locally sourced.

And get these prices! A mere 10 cents for a barbecued beef or chicken sandwich. That's the equivalent of $1.67 in 2023. It was a deal that couldn't be beat, and it was just one of the many reasons why the Tomahawk quickly became a beloved institution on the North Shore.

Preserving Tradition: The Tomahawk's Roots in North Vancouver

1 min read

Welcome to our house. The Tomahawk Restaurant, established in 1926, has endured and succeeded in preserving its fine quality and family dining. Mostly in part due to Chuck Chamberlain and his staff. Each morning at 6:30am, as the first rays of sunlight peek over the horizon, a buzz of activity begins to stir at the Tomahawk - the clatter of pots and pans, the rich aroma of freshly brewed Tomahawk signature coffee, and the gentle thud of Chuck Chamberlain setting up the outdoor patio, adorning the entrance with its beautifully carved Totem Poles.

Bags of Tomahawk signature coffee
Tomahawk Barbecue Special Coffee Blend

It's a scene that plays out every morning, as Chuck and his team rise early to ensure that every detail is just right before the restaurant opens its doors to the public. And as the first customers begin to trickle in, you can feel the energy building - a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation that can only be found at the Tomahawk.

Yukon Breakfast
The Yukon Breakfast

Next thing you know, the grill will have a mass of sizzling Yukon style bacon sending a delicious aroma throughout the kitchen. Behind the scenes of the kitchen is the undeniable detail to quality and authentic down-home cooking.

At the Tomahawk, we believe in doing things the old-fashioned way - with care, attention to detail, and a commitment to quality that is unmatched in the industry. Whether he's preparing our signature soups or crafting the perfect dressing for our salads, Chuck Chamberlain approaches each task with the same level of dedication.

"The Tomahawk signature pies, made from recipes that mom would be proud of, have a flavour and texture that has endured in order that they remain yours to savour."

The preparation of each item is made with the utmost care. Roasting whole turkeys in the oven for sandwiches, slicing fresh whole mushrooms, cutting loaves of bread into cubes to make croutons for salads, mincing certified organic ground beef for his Tomahawk hamburgers, straining large vats to make cheese sauce, or perhaps creating a new dish - freshness, quality and authenticity remain a constant.

Celebrating Indigenous Culture at the Tomahawk Barbecue  

1 min read

At the Tomahawk, we take great pride in our rich history and connection to the vibrant cultures of the North Shore and West Coast Indigenous communities. One of the main attractions of our establishment is our outstanding collection of Indigenous artifacts - hand-crafted treasures that are steeped in history and cultural significance. These artifacts were originally collected by our founder, Chick Chamberlain, more than 80 years ago, at a time when many people failed to appreciate their true value. Today, we recognize the tremendous cultural importance of these artifacts, and are proud to showcase them as a testament to the rich and diverse history of the Indigenous peoples of the region.

First Nations carvings and artwork displayed on wall

During the difficult years of the Great Depression, Chick Chamberlain and the Tomahawk Barbecue were not only a place to enjoy a delicious meal, but also a lifeline for many families in the community who were struggling to make ends meet. Chick understood the value of community, and often exchanged the Indigenous artifacts in his collection for food or at a nominal cost to those in need, regardless of their race or ethnicity. In this way, the Tomahawk became not only a place to gather and eat, but also a symbol of hope and resilience in a time of great hardship.

"The community built the restaurant, and the restaurant built the community"

Among the treasures in Chick's collection were hand-made pots, drums, cooking utensils, large and small totem poles, masks, and other beautifully carved objects.

At the Tomahawk Barbecue, the food is not just about sustenance - it is a celebration of community and culture. Nowhere is this more evident than in the restaurant's famous hamburgers, which are named after Indigenous chiefs that Chick Chamberlain had known over the years. For Chick, this was a way tohonor his friends and their contributions to the North Shore community, while also paying tribute to their cultural heritage.

The burgers are named after a number of Indigenous leaders, including Chief Capilano, Chief Dominic Charlie, and Chief August Jack.