VERTICAL: NOVEMBER, 2004 You have to be careful when you're looking for restaurant investors. "We wanted real guys," says Gary. "Not just guys with more money than brains." Gary's blunt like that, a straight shooter, a guy who commits to an idea and says what he thinks. Gary doesn't say "yes" when he answers a question in the affirmative; he says "hundred percent." Of the two of them, Joe is the gentler personality, a soft-spoken, bespectacled Sicilian with a love of wine, who defers to Gary when Gary's got something to say. Which is often. On the subject of investors, Gary says they didn't want those guys who think owning a restaurant would be cool. Those are the ones who keep suggesting improvements to the cutlery and the waiters' uniforms. No good.
As the weather turned crisp in the late fall, Gary and Joe found 17 investors who fit the profile they were looking for: downtown executives willing to sink no less than $25,000, and no more than $100,000, into a start-up in the financial district, and who had lots of friends they could bring for lunch and dinner. From this cohort, they collected $1 million, which they used to get a small-business loan for a further $250,000 from TD Bank. This wasn't much compared with the more than $7 million that Hoss Drees and Hy's owner David Aisenstat put into Ki, but Gary and Joe figured that for a restaurant seating 74 in the dining room and 35 in the bar, it'd be enough.
Using part of that money, they bought some of Chris Boland's assets, including the walk-in freezer, the walk-in fridge and much of the kitchen equipment-but not the furnishings. The Tasting Rooms hadn't really been redecorated for a couple of decades. It still had the Muskoka look left over from Butterfields in the same location. For a restaurant to have this decor in the financial district was "borderline shocking," says Gary. So no, they weren't buying that stuff.
CANOE: 11:45 a.m. General manager Scott Hall bustles by and puts the serving staff on alert with his trademark line: "Pitter-pat, people!" Walsh, near the garde manger, looks up. "We're the philistines in the back and the ponces up front." He gives an oh-well shrug: "It's not their fault."
At Canoe, two hosts are stationed at the host desk, so there's always someone present to greet arrivals while others are delivered to their table. During the lunch crush, neither of these hosts is allowed to answer the phone, to prevent making arriving guests wait; a third host sits in the back office fielding reservation calls and entering them into the OpenTable system. Periodically, the OB restaurants are tested on the speed and manner with which they answer the phone. A few years ago, Bruce McAdams, OB's fervent vice-president of operations, tried conducting one of these surveys himself, calling each of the restaurants 10 times and asking a series of questions. But of course he had to disguise his voice, and because two of the restaurants had call display, he had to make the calls from a pay phone in Commerce Court, dropping in quarters and trying to take notes. He doesn't do that any more.
When Mr. Dee arrives, with a global investment adviser from Boston we'll call Mr. Grey, the hosts greet him by name, the way Canoe wants every server and server assistant to do. That's not a challenge with Mr. Dee, but not every NB is as recognizable to every employee. So servers will type the names of NBs into the Silverware system with their order, according to seat number (the seat with its back to the entrance is always number 1, and numbers ascend clockwise). Still, it's possible to get it wrong and greet some Mr. Smith with a cheery "Good afternoon, Mr. Jones!" This is the kind of thing the OB group discusses at length in executive meetings. Peter Oliver has declared it an acceptable risk.
The host takes Mr. Dee and Mr. Grey to the restaurant's most coveted table, table 26, situated by the inukshuk sculpture in the corner of the raised level (section blue). From this position, a diner can see the entire restaurant and, through the banks of windows, the city beyond, and luxuriate in a feeling that approximates omnipotence. At seat 3 of table 26, Mr. Dee's vodka martini on the rocks with a twist awaits.