by Andrew Morrison | There have been rumblings about this for several months, but today it’s official. As of this morning, the Aquilini Group is now in full possession of Toptable, the collection of eateries developed over the past 33 years by legendary Vancouver restaurateur Jack Evrensel. The official announcement will be released to the media this afternoon.
Evrensel opened some of the most successful and impactful eateries we’ve ever had. These included them Araxi (Whistler) in 1981, CinCin in 1990, Blue Water Cafe and West in 2000 (two months apart), and Thierry in 2011. Many of Vancouver’s top bartenders, servers, sommeliers, managers, and chefs honed their skills under the Toptable umbrella – so many that they’re hard to count. And the staff they currently have on payroll are some of the best in the business.
“Our team has never been stronger nor this rich in talent,” Evrensel is quoted as saying in the official news release that is coming out this afternoon. He attributes this to the commitment and passion of the company’s “award-winning chefs, renowned restaurant and wine directors, and dedicated employees,” but at least some of the credit needs to be pointed his way. I’ve seen perhaps one of two restaurateurs in my life who are as dedicated to the higher standards of hospitality. What has set Jack apart, however, has been his penchant for managing from the background. There’s never been any personal glory-basking or attention-seeking. In all the years that I’ve been reporting on restaurants, I’ve managed to take his photo just once, at an Araxi long table supper on Pemberton’s North Arm Farm several years ago (see above). I remember him shifting his weight to one leg and tilting his head as if to say, “Aw, c’mon” like a little kid. I trust that he’s doing that right now as he reads this.
Evrensel will stay for the next three months in a consulting role to help manage the transition, and operations will continue as normal. On the phone yesterday, he couldn’t tell me what he was going to do after that. “I really don’t know. I’ve never really had a five year plan. I go with the flow. I’m at peace. I don’t know the future, and that’s the way I like it.”
I don’t expect the Aquilini Group – a real estate, development, renewable energy, sports, and entertainment behemoth - will mess around with a good thing. The managers currently in place at every Toptable property are at the top of their game, so the maintenance of the status quo sounds ideal.
All I know for certain is that Jack deserves a round of applause, not only for a long career of excellence, but also for finding and locking down the one deep-pocketed buyer who could afford to take his considerable life’s work off his hands.
Terms of the deal are not being disclosed.
The GOODS from CinCin, Araxi, West, & Blue Water Café
Vancouver & Whistler, BC | This autumn we are pleased to present five extraordinary wine dinners at Araxi, Blue Water Cafe, CinCin and West. Our award-winning chefs will craft multi-course tasting menus to complement each evening’s progression of wines. Senior representatives from select wineries will speak to the history and terroir of their estates and winemaking methods. Get all the details on these unmissable evenings after the jump… Read more
The GOODS from CinCin, Araxi, West, Blue Water Café
Vancouver & Whistler, BC | Top Table Group’s restaurant wine lists were once again saluted at the 9th Annual Wine List Awards Luncheon convened earlier this afternoon during the 34th annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. In attendance at the Luncheon were Top Table wine directors Samantha Rahn (Araxi), as well as Andrea Vescovi (Blue Water Cafe) and Owen Knowlton (West), each of whom has previously been awarded ‘Sommelier of the Year’, in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Blue Water Cafe and West were two of only six restaurants awarded with the highest Platinum Wine List Award, while Araxi and CinCin Araxi and CinCin were among a distinguished group to win the Gold designation. Read more
I seldom do “process” posts, but thought this might be interesting for the restaurant scene wonks among us as it charts how easily a story can come together and then fall to pieces…
There was some down low Gordon Ramsay chatter in the local restaurantosphere over the last few weeks (if I ever use that word again you can kick me hard in the shins). Plenty of frigate birds, if you know what I mean. Lots of vague emails and anonymous texts. Most of it had Gordon Ramsay partnering up with local restaurateur Jack Evrensel, owner of Araxi, West, CinCin, and the Blue Water Cafe. The “word”, according to the frigate birds, was that The Swearer had been hanging at Araxi in Whistler of late and that he and Jack were stewing something up together. Juicy stuff for food nerds like me (and maybe three of you).
I knew the former to be true. Ramsay had been up in Whistler, and I knew he’d dined at Araxi. But I had no clue as to the veracity of the latter claim, which reeked of rumour. Naturally, I was excited at the prospect of a Ramsay-Evrensel venture, and expended no small amount of energy trying to nail down some more info. As you are probably aware, the international celebrity chefs seem to be picking the West Coast over Toronto when it comes to expanding their empires northwards (witness Vongerichten and Boulud), so this seemed an entirely plausible development. The “who is next” question always brings up the same three names and Ramsay’s is at the top of the list (Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver are the other two). None of this was particularly shocking, but it would be news nevertheless. I’m not a very good gumshoe, but I’d had the good luck to publish the news on Boulud and Vongerichten before anyone else, and I was hoping for a hat trick.
Fuel to the fire was added when I went on Gordon Ramsay’s official website. There I found a headline that read something along the lines of “Gordon Ramsay will appear on CBC’s ‘The Hour’ with George Strombosoandso tonight!”. I was 90% certain – total dumbass that I am – that I might have a little scoop in the works. I had the feeling.
But I didn’t have the story. I couldn’t nail down a third source; my second source conflicted with my first; and the PR people involved weren’t returning my calls (which is generally a sign of promise). I honestly thought that the news of Ramsay and Evrensel joining forces was going to break on Strombosoandso’s show, and I was not the least bit chuffed about it.
When I watched the show (with a growing sense of pointed dread), Ramsay declared something that I wasn’t expecting at all. It was his intention, he said, to open a restaurant in Toronto before Vancouver. He was very non-committal about the timing, so much so that it sounded as if he was just trying to please and appease the Front Street audience.
And with that, thud went the scoop, and poof went the rumour. It didn’t sound like Mr. Potty Mouth Footballer would be coming here or Whistler any time soon. With shoulders thus shrunk, I erased what I’d accrued so far, turned my computer off, and opened a beer.
But in almost every rumour there is a kernel of truth that germinates to make the weed of rumour. The following day on Toronto’s CityNews, Ramsay announced that the winning chef from his television show, Hell’s Kitchen, would be awarded with some work at Araxi. From the lion’s mouth:
I was in Whistler two weeks ago at the Araxi restaurant, which, the new winner of Hell’s Kitchen gets a job there – they source everything within 100 miles. The food, the wine, and everything, all sourced locally. It’s amazing. That’s a template for every restaurant to follow.
Take away the hyperbole (not everything at Araxi is sourced within a hundred miles – the pastry chef, for example, is from Ontario), and it’s not much of a story at all. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea who the “new winner” of Hell’s Kitchen is (I don’t watch the show), so I can’t gauge with any measure of confidence if this is a big deal, a little deal, a gimmick, or Jack just doing a customer a solid.
What do you think?