In a city with insane commercial real estate costs and limitless choice when it comes to dropping hard-earned dollars on dinner, restaurants that have remained relevant for at least 10 years should be celebrated.
Wellington Street’s Marben Restaurant is now a mainstay for the city’s influential set, having just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. “Marben’s success – and the success of any great restaurant – is all about the people. Investing in your team and giving them a platform that brings out the best in them is the most important thing a restaurant owner can do,” says Simon Benstead, owner of Marben Restaurant and The Cloak Bar, Marben’s newer underground cocktail spot. “Just as important is the sincere hospitality and authentic experiences that we provide to our guests, as we strive to make every guest feel like they have a second home at Marben.”
Benstead recognizes the importance of constant evolution, and Marben has changed with the maturing of its original clientele from sleek late night hotspot to a refined gastropub. “Much like our city, Marben today is a very different restaurant than it was in 2007 and in many ways mirrors my own growth as a person and a professional. Now, as a British/Canadian gastropub, Marben will continue to focus on creating memorable experiences for our friends, guests and neighbours,” says Benstead of Marben’s next five years.
Just a few blocks east on Wellington on the 54th floor of the TD Centre, Oliver & Bonacini’s Canoe is a staple for the financial district’s movers and shakers and a view-filled special occasion spot for the rest of us. “The key to Canoe’s sustainability is not only delivering topnotch Canadian cuisine, but executing this consistently day in and day out,” says Andrew Oliver, President and CEO, Oliver & Bonacini. “The whole culinary team at Canoe creates impressive dishes that are elegantly plated, using unique yet approachable ingredients.” Of course, it’s more than just the food. “Our outstanding front-of-house team provides flawless technical service, and is constantly going the extra mile to ensure each guest walks away with a memorable experience,” says Oliver. “Top that off with a gorgeous atmosphere and stunning cityscape views, and you can understand why this restaurant has been around for more than 20 years.”
Even after two successful decades, the key is not to remain stagnant. “We know there’s always room to improve and innovate – whether it’s tightening up efficiencies in the kitchen, revamping our cocktail program, or smoothing out our points of service. Our team is constantly inspired to keep pushing the boundaries,” says Oliver. “We recently welcomed a new Chef de Cuisine, Ron McKinlay, who is armed with a breadth of fine dining experience. He and Chef John Horne will launch some exciting tasting menus, focusing on Canadian ingredients, history, time and place.” He cites a five-year goal as increased international recognition. “Canada’s restaurant scene has come so far over the last decade, and I think we all deserve a little more kudos from the rest of the world,” says Oliver.
Another beloved staple is the original Drake Hotel, which first opened its art-filled doors back in 2004. Part quality restaurant, part music venue and part breezy rooftop cocktail spot, The Drake appeals to a mixed bag – from Queen West’s hipsters, to seasoned foodies and pretty party scene staples. “Since the start, we’ve stuck to our West Queen West roots as an authentic, community-focused, arts and culture-driven hospitality brand, and we’re always striving to make it better and more interesting, evolving alongside our international contemporaries. That’s what our audience craves,” said Bill Simpson, Chief Development Officer. “We were focused on creating a hotel and restaurant for locals, a hotbed for culture and to blaze our own trail.”
Back in 2004, nobody else had a mandate to incorporate art, music and culture into the restaurant scene. “We try to evaluate our success on our own terms and by our own criteria, vs. measuring ourselves against anyone else, and then try to top what we’ve just done, asking ourselves what’s next? What’s interesting to us? It helps keep us motivated, stimulated and driven to create experiences for our guests – both local and from away – that we enjoy ourselves.” He credits a big part of their success to their team. “We have lots of big, creative, ambitious minds here (starting with Jeff Stober, our CEO and founder) and there is immense opportunity to explore, challenge each other and create new ideas,” says Simpson. The flagship location will soon experience a 32-room hotel expansion, which will undoubtedly see the restaurant as busy as ever.
When some Toronto restaurants close their doors almost as quickly as others turnaround tables, it’s safe to say that these spots aren’t going to disappear any time soon. They’re in good company too; other notable restaurants to pass the ten-year mark include favourites Trattoria Nervosa, Lee and Barbarian Steakhouse.
What do you think the key to a running a successful restaurant is? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.