The final course has been served at two Vancouver restaurants that influenced the way we eat.
Raincity Grill, a pioneering locavore spot before the word was coined, was shuttered last week. C Restaurant, one of Canada's most famous seafood restaurants, closed last month. Both businesses were sold to Viaggio Hospitality (owners of Cibo, Uva and the Waldorf Hotel, among others), which plans to renovate and reopen them with new concepts and names.
"Things do not always go as planned," Harry Kambolis, the former proprietor of both restaurants, said by text last Friday. Until then, he had insisted Raincity Grill was not for sale.
When Raincity Grill opened in 1992, it took the concept of showcasing fresh, local, high-quality ingredients into the mainstream. It was one of the first restaurants in Canada to name small, local farmers, foragers and fishermen on its menu. It featured long lists of Okanagan wines before they became trendy. It launched the 100-mile tasting menu, and was so dedicated to using ingredients grown locally that bartenders would not even garnish their martinis with lemon twists.
C Restaurant, which opened in 1997, became even more famous for featuring previously unavailable local seafood in a fine-dining venue. Fans of spot prawns can thank former executive chef Robert Clark for reclaiming for the local market the sweet delicacy, which was once all exported to Asia. He also championed sablefish, Dungeness crab and wild salmon, sourced sustainable fishermen and helped create Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise program.
"It baffles and saddens me," Rob Clark said by phone last week. He left the restaurant group three years ago to open The Fish Counter, a sustainable seafood market and fast-food bistro. "How can something unravel that quickly?"
After Mr. Clark left, the restaurants began to have trouble.
"He had some good chefs and I tried to support them," says Joe Salvo, president of Ponderosa Mushrooms, one of many small suppliers and farmers who stopped dealing with both restaurants and are still owed thousands of dollars. "But it was like pulling teeth to get paid."
Mr. Kambolis said the unpaid bills were "all part of restructuring," attributing his financial struggles to larger economic problems.
"My story, if I was a writer, would be about the compromises we've all had to make since 2008 … the year the markets and banks crashed and we all changed our spending habits."
In mid-September, Raincity Grill was due for reinspection by health inspectors with Vancouver Coastal Health for repeated noncompliance on outstanding violations. The Food Establishment Inspection Details documents, which are available on online, cite violations going back to February, 2014, that included lack of an accepted sanitation plan, inadequate insect/rodent control, and improper construction/maintenance/sanitation.
According to VCH spokesperson Anna Maria D'Angelo, the inspection was called off because Mr. Kambolis said he was selling the restaurant. "It's a waste of time" if the restaurant is being sold, she said in a telephone interview. "We hold off for a three-month period and wait for the new guy."
Similar health violations detailed at C Restaurant had been almost all addressed before it was sold to the Viaggio Hospitality Group on Sept. 21.
Records filed under the Personal Property Security Act show that a Crown charge against Raincity Grill for unpaid provincial sales tax was filed on Sept. 16. Documents show two additional liens against the restaurant, from Galaxie Signs Ltd. and Advanceit Financial Corporation.
Separate B.C. court documents show three notices of claim against Raincity Grill and C (Enotecca Wineries, for $5,280.24) and Mr. Kambolis (Admiralty Leasing, $6,653.87 and Beefway Meats, $8,282.32).
"Things do happen and we struggled for a while. Fine dining isn't what it used to be," Mr. Kambolis replied when asked about the lien and problems paying suppliers.
"Maybe we tried too hard," Mr. Kambolis said, adding that he would use the money from the sale to pay his suppliers and staff. "We did make a difference … and when you make a difference, history will remember you."