VANCOUVERITES: 5 Minutes With Celebrated Local Restaurant Designer Craig Stanghetta
Ask us who our favourite restaurant designer is these days and it’s a no brainer: Craig Stanghetta. While it would be true to say that he has only just begun his career, he’s already made such a huge impression on our restaurant scene that we doubt it’ll be long before he and his aesthetic stand astride this town like a colossus. Stanghetta first gained his reputation in 2010 as the award-winning designer of Bao Bei in Chinatown. From there, he was commissioned to conceive of the gorgeous driftwood installation that still hangs from the rear dining room ceiling at L’Abattoir in Gastown; designed the fetching Meat & Bread on Cambie (he’s doing the new one, too), the burger joint Stackhouse on Granville, Farina on Main (mmm…so good), Donnelly’s Clough Club on Abbott, and Revolver, which is quite possibly the best-looking coffee house Vancouver has ever had.
The thing about your neighbourhood that makes you want to live there? Graeme Berglund is the Sheriff.
Name the thing that you eat that is bad for you that you will never stop eating? Whenever i go back to Toronto I go to the original California Sandwiches and eat these massive breaded veal sandwiches with mushrooms and peppers. They’re amazing, they kill you so gently.
Default drink/cocktail of choice? The mighty Negroni.
Now that you’re a sought after restaurant designer, you must be encountering larger budgets than you’ve seen in the past. Is that liberating? The Two Moes: Moe Munny and his pal Moe Problems. To be serious, it can be liberating, but the two best currencies in this line of work are vision and creativity. That needs to come from the owner/operator in equal measure to the design team. If the client lacks vision, then a good interior is a just a big, beautiful and sometimes expensive bandage. This isn’t just about someone having more money than vision, it’s also about upstarts shaking in their boots and pulling back from anything unique because they feel they’ll alienate people. What I try to stress is a sort of “if you build it, they will come” mentality, whereby you stay true to a well-honed and unique concept and make all of your choices fall in line with that. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the only way to work and I’d rather not even pick up the phone if the person on the other end is not interested in a fresh and focused outcome for their project. A red flag is when someone says anything about New York in the conversation…
From a design perspective, name three Vancouver restaurants that you think are the shit? When I first moved to Vancouver, the first restaurants I visited were Salt and Chambar — I thought the city had it all figured out. That sentiment might have been slightly premature. Presently, I like Judas Goat a lot. Ping’s was a great looking place too.
The historical personalities, both good and bad, that fascinate you the most? Anton Checkov. Nikola Tesla. Albert Einstein.
What trend have you followed that you now regret? At one point I was wearing clothes with far too many pockets.
The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair? I had to shave my entire body right down to the eyebrows for a short film when I was just starting out as an actor. It was just before Christmas break during my 2nd year of university. When I went home for the holiday I was so puzzled because everyone was acting strangely nice to me — too nice. I finally realized they thought I had cancer.
What are the three things you’d like to change about Vancouver? There’s a bunch of social nonsense that needs to be considered in another light. My libertarian sensibilities are shaken every time I see people or organized groups (gov or otherwise) do good work for people that has very little benefit to them personally–I think the world at large needs more of that. I need more of it certainly. As for the rest — ie, stuff where my opinion might be relevant such as how the city’s shaping up culturally, the restaurant scene etc. — I think time will do the work. There are so many interesting, hardworking people here pushing in so many cool directions that if everyone just keeps it up we’ll watch this city get more and more interesting and sophisticated. I’m also glad we don’t have a fucking buffoon of a Mayor like Rob Ford.
Favourite breakfast? I have a nostalgic soft spot for a concoction called the “Medicine Hat Man” Breakfast. It was invented by a good friend of mine, a carpenter who might in fact be the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ: Josh Jacobson. It consists of brown beans sauteed in bacon grease with onions and garlic over top of medium fried eggs on toast, with a side of bacon. This meal provides the requisite sustenance to perform woodwork or, if required, the Lord’s bidding.
Your go to, no-frills place for dinner? Bao Bei. It’s like a second home — our daughter has slept in those banquettes more than any other place aside from our home.
If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you? Argentina. I’d split my time between Buenos Aires and Patagonia.
The strangest place you’ve ever been to? Churchill, Manitoba; polar bear capital of the world, where a fellow told me the story of how his pack of huskies ate his niece.
The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years? Franny and Zooey, Steppenwolf, Blind Willow Sleeping Woman (I’m a late bloomer).
What is the best way to get to know a neighbourhood? Wander. Being aimless is often the best way to find things. “If I could live to be several hundred, I would take a walk and really wander, really wander” Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV
Where was the last place you traveled to for work or pleasure? Austin, TX — work. Went down to discuss the design of a new place for the guys who run Uchi and Uchiko down there. A couple of cool cucumbers and as skilled, informed and pleasant as anyone I’ve had the pleasure to meet in the restaurant industry.
What is your biggest phobia? Letting down my friends and family and dying before I’ve gotten a chance to show my daughter how flat out amazing some things are in this world of ours.
Where did you go to school? Sir James Dunn Collegiate and Vocational in Sault Ste Marie Ontario. York University in Toronto.
The cliché that you overuse? I have a laundry list of cliches that I rattle off when I feel like I should be saying something relevant but can’t come up with anything…”at the end of the day”…”no one’s perfect”…
The strangest talent that you possess? I have the amazing ability to turn into a savage, lupine beast before I have coffee.
Shoe of choice? Good boots.
The different career path that you could have gone on? I’m on it now.
Your ancestry? Half Italian – from the middle of the boot, on the Adriatic. The other side’s French and an Irish/Ojibway mix. I’m an honest to goodness Canadian product.
Your three favourite films? Goodfellas, Eyes Wide Shut, The Idiots, Manderlay, The Squid and the Whale.
Favourite pizza? Farina – I’m clearly biased. I’m also correct.
Under what circumstances would you join the army? I’m more likely to join a rebellion vs our current government than the army. I’d join the Canadian Forces should our independence be threatened. It’s hard not to take our freedom for granted; but of course in those moments when one can grasp and appreciate it for a split second it’s clear that should it ever be threatened, it would certainly be something worth fighting for. That being said, it’d be tough to kill another person. Although when I’m driving I justify why I should kill about 7 people on any given day. So maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal.
Your most regrettable purchase ever? When I was in London a few years ago I bought some kind of gothic chemise…
Your major character flaw? I’m impatient and short-tempered. It’s often regrettable.
The character flaw in others that you can’t abide? I hate stupid, vacuous people. Particularly the very driven and ambitious ones. There’s a Cornell professor of social psychology whose work focuses on this type of person–he theorizes that some people are too dumb to realize how dumb they are so they never second guess their qualifications/entitlement. There are a lot of designers out there who feel that way about me. I’m the Sarah Palin of the Vancouver design world.
How do you know when you can trust someone? After you’ve video taped them for a number of weeks you can usually tell if they’re someone you should be hanging around.
What was the luckiest moment in your life? I’d like to count the past 5 years as that moment.
What was the unluckiest moment in your life? When I filled out a university application joking that I would kill the admittance board should they not accept me. Turns out that isn’t hilarious.
What are you the most proud of? The next thing I work on.
What are you the least proud of? The way I behave when my mother starts talking to me about tax planning (she’s my accountant).
Having worked in and designed so many restaurants, if you ever opened a restaurant of your own (don’t worry – this is hypothetical) what sort of place would it be? I’d like to do a place like The Auberge Ravoux. The restaurant/ lodging of Vincent Van Gogh. It’s hands down one of the most charming restaurants in the world. There’s a book called Van Gogh’s Table that is all about this place and the hard cover version is great; it has some striking and evocative photos that really isolate the “ethos” of the place. That would be for a little later on in my life as I feel I’m still a little young to settle into anything that quaint. Currently I’d do something that had a more cosmopolitan feel. I see some holes in the Vancouver dining scene and I’d love to stake my claim on something that would check off a lot of the boxes on my list of what’s missing in this city. However, to be effusively clear, I think the quality in the Vancouver restaurant seen is astounding. The owner/operators in this town have a handle on food quality, value and service that can’t be beat.
What is the best thing about your work? Well, I absolutely adore restaurants and hotels. Two of my grandparents were chefs and, up until recently, my family owned and operated the oldest hotel in my home town. My brother and I worked as cooks throughout high school and I’ve been working in some capacity in the restaurant industry ever since. When I travel I organize my itinerary around two things: food and culture. This job is the nexus of those two things. It is hands down the most fun and interesting thing for me to wake up and do each day. I’ll do this work in some form or another until the day I die.
What is the worst thing about your work? City Hall. Old, stubborn contractors. The stress and anxiety of standing in the centre of the fresh hell that is a restaurant project that is over-budget and has passed its opening deadline. The absolute worst, though, is people that lack vision or come to me wanting to emulate another idea or ask me to rip off one of my own jobs.
The relatively normal piece of clothing that you believe you’d look the most ridiculous in? Trench coat. I’ll hold out on that item until I’m a captain of industry or a flasher.
The talent that you wish you possessed? I don’t really want any other talents. I’m happy with the ones Ted Our Lord has provided me with. I’d love more skills — a few other languages…wish I could weld… better with computers, etc.
What are you listening to as you answer these questions? The voice in my head telling me how stupid I was to agree to do Pecha Kucha while I was under severe work related duress.
What sport did you give up and why? Soccer. I was really into it until I was 18–at one point was considering pursuing a scholarship to a school in The States. It was possible I could go play in Texas, but at that point I made a choice: that choice was to get drunk for 4 yrs.
What is the one animal that scares you the most? Parasites. Might not be considered an animal but they are controlling the behaviour of several animals. Look it up if you don’t believe me — it will literally change the way you look at the world. Parasites can control the minds of caterpillars, roaches, crabs, and maybe even us. In many cases, scientists don’t know exactly how these creatures achieve mind control.
If you had a motto, what would it be? “Harness your Hopes”
Scariest situation you’ve ever been in? Ha, I once found myself on the stoop of an elementary school at 4am, high on mushrooms with an ex con…
Your favourite word? Wind.
Your least favourite word? I don’t really have a word that bothers me in a phonetic sense or just a single word whose base meaning is distasteful. What I hate most is any series of words strung together where someone is trying to impress upon me that there are “practical” implications to consider.
Your favourite curse word? FUCK. It’s versatile as fuck.
Three things of no monetary value that you own and will keep dearly until you die? Just one so far: a necklace with a nice engraving from two people of great standing in my emotional lexicon.
The strangest road you’ve ever travelled? Is this a literal or metaphorical question? I think I have an answer that encompasses both. I once took a book out of the library in university about the astral plane. The astral plane is like a separate plane of consciousness that you can ascend to through deep meditation. Once there you can travel through your thoughts and dreams and potentially liaison with other travelers as well, therefore in turn affecting their actions in the corporeal world. At any rate, I tried to ascend and travel that road a few times. This would have come in handy in the winter months as that road had less snow and you could get around far quicker than most other roads in the city at the time; if I recall correctly that was the year Mayor Mel Lastman declared a state of emergency in Toronto due to “so much Snow” (paraphrasing). I, however, was striving to be unaffected by the snowy, cold weather by doing most of my errands in the world of the collective unconscious. I had varying degrees of success. If I recall correctly, I think I did in fact usually have to travel the roads of the corporeal world to get my groceries as the food on the astral plan wasn’t very filling.
The first album that made you love music? Thriller.
The song that you could listen to on repeat for an hour? Willy Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger is like one long song. That’s what I would pick. I would only have to play it once and change to fill up the hour where you’ve somehow locked me in a room with one song on repeat. Jerk.
The one place that you have the least interest in ever visiting? These days: 24 Sussex Drive.
The first three things that you do every morning? I roll over and look at the girls. I administer some kisses and wake them up — they get mad (it’s likely an antic disposition but I can’t be sure). 2. Essential grooming and adorning of suitable raiment. 3. Walk 30 minutes in a horrible mood until I get to Revolver for a “little buddy”.
Describe your favourite photograph: Private and sentimental. But check this out.
When you can’t sleep: I usually go outside and kill a few of the neighbourhood cats, that usually puts my bloodlust at ease and I can settle back into a nice restful slumber.
What is beauty? For me, beauty is when a sense of familiarity and surprise exist in equal measures in the same place.