10 Years Since ‘Century’, The Ill-Fated ‘Modern Latin Cowboy’ Eatery On Richards St.

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by Andrew Morrison | It’s coming up on 10 years (!) since the opening of the “Modern Latin Cowboy” themed Century restaurant and bar at 432 Richards Street. Back then I remember marvelling at its potential on camera for the Food Network’s Opening Soon show, playing late night games of poker when it was a mess of construction dust and desperation, and taping interviews on opening night after far too much nervous cocktail prep. Of course, it didn’t work out for Century. In fact, it totally bombed. I can’t remember who I wrote this for in 2009, but I found this passage on my hard drive:

Housed in an old bank building with soaring, gold leaf ceilings, priceless marble floors, walls a thousand shades of tobacco, and brown saddle leather couches that caressed with the softness of history, Century was the most beautiful restaurant I’ve ever had the pleasure to be totally disappointed by, and a wonderful place for a long, slow drink (if you were deaf). The talented, arrogant, and scandalously young chef with a superbly cheffish name – Remi DuBois (26) – created a menu that read like Pablo Neruda’s most seductive poetry but tasted like the dull juvenilia of someone allergic to seasoning (as to how anyone could make plantain fritters and cinnamon maple braised kurabuto pork belly border on not very good is more a shame than a mystery). It was a shocking flop with the foodie set, and after an opening glint of genuine possibility it was shunted off the must-try track by restaurants with a third of the potential. Sherwood left the company a year later and it has since been relegated – though still open and serving a club-going crowd – to Vancouver’s lengthy annals of oops.

I’m remember of its unfortunate end whenever I walk past its imposing frontage. I love old building-to-restaurant conversions, and though this wasn’t the first for the address (previously Lola’s, Ballantyne’s), it certainly was the most daring of them. It’s not very often that a restaurant with a Che Guevara mural opens in an old Edwardian bank building! Especially one that came pre-loaded with a ridiculous amount of original character (wine-stained marble floors, Italian Skyros marble walls, gorgeous door frames, mirrors, chandeliers, wainscotting, bank vault, etc.), not to mention its very own ghosts (among them a murdered teller, if I recall correctly). It’s still very much there, of course, lying either dormant or beyond my field of vision as a nightclub or private function space. The internet has nothing on it except for its past, which I was glad to be an infinitesimal part of.

Many thanks to Century owner Sean Sherwood for readily supplying the memory-jogging images when asked. Fun fact: Ron Oliver and Simon Kaulback (co-owners of Mamie Taylor’s in Chinatown) met at Century while tending its impossibly beautiful, deco mirror-backed bar.

Bar century-main-room Curved-booths

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There is 1 comment

  1. Thanks for posting Andrew 🙂

    We actually did really well out of the gate, the first six months were insane numbers, but those months were also filled with nasty partnership fights that were such a huge distraction to the operation, among those an attempt by the partners to annex my beloved first project, Fiction.

    There were more than a few issues that you kindly didn’t remember with Century, notably the chef, who was very talented as a chef, but who’s vision for merging Latin with classic French couldn’t match the execution. His dishes on the menu that we launched with were exceptional during testing, but the execution varied after that. The famously unforgiving Alex Gill give us a glowing review one day (at the time I honestly thought it was the only positive review she’d ever written), just to watch another inconsistent execution derail us on the next.

    That project was my final attempt to repair the partnership after so many challenges had broken it. Lucy Mae Brown had created such a monster of success, and the fallout was a collection of egos and ambition that outpaced the ability to execute. One partner’s financial issues drove him to suicide, another was fighting a life long battle with alcoholism, and I was so driven to be the best restaurateur in the country I lost sight of why I loved the craft in the first place. There was little the group could agree on, and so fixing problems, once they arose, became literally impossible, despite being obvious and inescapable.

    In the end, I offered every partner a buyout, and assembled a team to replace the partners I had. They countered with a shotgun, determined they could solve the problems themselves with me out of the way. Hindsight being what it is, buying me out was too big a financial burden, and it cost them LMB and Century combined, while I had been lucky enough to pull Fiction from the group as part of the deal. I kept Fiction going, with my lovely and incredibly stoic wife Sue running things there, but after her own 3 year battle with the big C and my prolonged battle with the partners, our passion for the business had been ground down, and we found an enthusiastic buyer in Ivo (Meet on Main).

    The business brought many amazing people into our lives, including you Andrew, who I remember playing poker with at the Beach House back in your waiterblog days :D. If not for that, this business isn’t worth shit. The amazing people is the dragon we’re chasing, not the cocktails, or the fois, or the decor, or any of that other sizzle to our craft. We create it all so that we can access the millions of special moments we get with those amazing people, on both sides of the table, and while we love our craft, those memories are the real reward.

    I can’t count, nor name, all the exceptional people that went through that group, but some of them are still leading the industry today. Andrey Durbach, Nico Scheurmann, Kris Barnholden, David Wolowydnik, Kurtis Kolt, Eryn Dorman, Sara Edge, Adam Schelle, are just some of the few in the culinary scene. Meghan Ory (Intelligence), Jenny Galt (CherryBomb), went on to huge careers in showbiz, and we hired Colby Smulders (HIMYM, Avengers) just before she got her job as Robin Sparkles and became an Avenger.

    Some of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting I met through that business, those whose names you wouldn’t know I still hold very close to my heart, they helped me realize a dream, and they all taught me a tremendous amount about myself. To this day I think about all of them regularly.

    I miss many of the rest of you in the biz, and the late night debauchery, the great stories, and the daily discoveries about new flavours, new wines, new people doing new things in the craft. Perhaps one day I’ll put on the apron again when I get tired of my current ride, but until then I’ve been really enjoying sitting on the other side of the table.

    Thank you Andrew

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