Toques off to a 30-year work in progress 

Araxi marks a milestone most only dream of

My husband and I once looked at buying a restaurant. Seriously.

But once you shake off your dreams and investigate such undertakings, the average person usually sobers up. While the numbers vary, the prognosis is consistently grim - by most business surveys, only 15 to 20 per cent of new restaurants make it through their first year.

More rare is the restaurant that succeeds or, rarer still, flourishes, by foregoing gimmickry and hubris or, even worse, habit - you know, the well-worn "favourites" that have kept the same tired menu for eons and rely on "regulars" who have aged along with the tablecloths to keep them afloat.

And so I say, toques off to Araxi, a creative institution that's not only survived, but thrived by continually evolving during its 30-year reign at Whistler. An institution that kicked off Jack Evrensel's sister establishments in Vancouver: West, Blue Water, CinCin and, most recently, Thierry.

Araxi, so-named for Jack's wife, along with its siblings have been turning heads and palates of customers and critics alike for years.

It may well be because Jack has been astute enough to hire staff who find as much, if not more, value in things intrinsic to their personal codes as they do in earning a living doing whatever it is they do so well.

"I tell my people, nobody can really pay you enough for your time," he says with a laugh in a phone interview from his home in West Vancouver. "So you'd better be getting a lot more than the money out of it when you're working."

They must be. For starters, sous chef Tim Pickwell had been there from Day One until he retired, on Araxi's 30th anniversary this past Halloween, a very special night when the restaurant closed its doors early so alumni could celebrate, some coming from as far away as Newfoundland.

Then you have the inimitably unassuming and talented executive chef, James Walt, who's pulled numerous multi-year stints at Araxi since 1997, carefully crafting his ideas over time until they've culminated in what that love 'im or hate 'im chef-cum-celebrity, Gordon Ramsay, declared as "the best restaurant in Canada."

In the front of the house you've had Neil Henderson, who spent some six or seven years there as sommelier and restaurant director - a role much like a theatre director's - before carrying on with Top Table as project manager to this day. And there are more.

These are virtually unheard of terms of service in a business that usually sees people scrabbling to the top, stabbing backs and other bodily parts, and jumping ship more often than politicians.


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