Kike Redondo, owner of village Mediterranean restaurant Kypriaki Norte, has always marched to the beat of his own drum.
And after 19 years of entertaining diners with his trademark Iberian charm (and let's not forget, roasted lamb), Kike is calling it quits on his own terms, announcing April 27 that the family-run eatery would be closing up shop.
"Now I'm going to Spain to see my mom, who's 88 years old, and we'll see what happens," Kike said of his immediate future plans, which, unsurprisingly for a man who began serving at the tender age of 14, don't include retirement just yet.
"Maybe I'll open another restaurant in Spain. No surprise because I have to work. I've worked all my life — I've never been unemployed a single day in my life. It's the only thing I know."
But running one of the resort's most beloved local hangouts for nearly two decades wouldn't have been possible without help from Kike's family. His wife, Norah, handled the paperwork; his daughter, Jenny waited tables; and his 33-year-old son Derek — who also started work at a young age, serving in the family restaurant as a teenager — donned the executive chef's coat.
Like any family affair, however, there was also a fair amount of drama, according to the always-opinionated Kike.
"You know what? Sometimes it was great because I love my family more than anything and sometimes it was really a pain in the ass because you cannot fire them," he jokes. "That was the problem."
But, as anyone who's sat in the long-running tavern across from the Whistler Conference Centre can attest, being a guest at Kypriaki Norte often felt like you were part of the Redondo family as well, with Kike and Norah never missing a chance to cavort with diners or buy a round of drinks from the bar. It's been Kike's M.O. for as long as he can remember.
"I try to please everybody," he explains. "I think I brought some memories to Whistler, and I'm sure I pissed off people too, but I know I made people happy."
One group Kike knows for a fact he rubbed the wrong way were the liquor inspectors working in North Vancouver, where the Redondos have been operating Kypriaki Taverna for decades.
"I am an asshole sometimes, and I like to go against the law for most of my life," he says. "I got closed in Vancouver because ... I was closing at six in the morning, like in Spain and Europe. When I came (to Canada) in 1975, you had to close at 10 o'clock. I never knew that, I said 'What the hell is that? Are you kidding me? Where do these people come from?'"
But after doing things his own way for so long, the 67-year-old Kike said it's time to move on, a decision that was reinforced after losing two of his closest friends over the last decade: Joel Thibault of Chez Joel and, later, Bavaria, who passed away in 2005 after a long battle with cancer, and Pascal Tiphine of Le Gros, who died in November from liver cancer at the age of 58.
"For me, when Joel and Pascal passed away, it hurt me a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. I thought it was time to retire because it's not going to be the same without those guys," Kike says, recalling some of the many great times he shared with the longtime Whistler restaurateurs, along with Mario Enero, of La Rua and Caramba!, and Antonio Corsi, of Quattro.
"Some of my best memories here are with them," Kike reminisces. "We were five friends, but really we were family."
And in Kike's world, as so many Whistler locals learned over the years, there's no greater honour than being considered family.
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