They threw a heck of a party last night at Joe Fortes—and rightly so. Hitting the 30 year mark in a dining city as fickle as Vancouver certainly merits an occasion.
There are all kinds of reasons to celebrate, so I thought it worthy of a post.
It pays to remember what Vancouver was like when Joe Fortes first arrived on the scene.
It was the heady, pre-Expo 86 year, when every air-wave resonated with the strains of “Something’s Happening, Something’s Happening here…”
What wasn’t happening was the notion of sustainable seafood, which was barely a blip on the radar at that point.
“Salmon was smoked, planked and definitely never Pink. Oysters were shucked or angelic on horseback. Chilean Seabass was fine. And the two martini lunch was still very much in vogue. And it was still illegal, in a restaurant, to order a drink without food.” (This week’s Vancouver Courier.)
Joe Fortes was the city’s first ‘serious’ oyster bar and one of the few restaurants of its day (aside from The Cannery and the Salmon House) to potently promote and celebrate BC seafood.
Not only that, but its celebration of Joe ‘Seraphim’ Fortes as the persona of the restaurant’s brand was a stroke of genius. Joe was a true early Vancouver legend. English Bay’s self appointed lifeguard, quietly heroic, was a figurehead in the community so celebrated that, when he died in 1922, his funeral was the largest the city had ever seen.
Happily, front and centre at last night’s shindig were former owners Bud and Dotty Kanke. They were the movers and shakers who put Joe Fortes on the map in the first place. But they also accomplished a whole lot more by taking the notion of restaurant philanthropy to a whole new level.
This morning, word just came in that Joe Fortes’ annual collaboration with Vancouver Firefighters this week raised $100,000, through ‘umbrella sales’ and proceeds from the party.
Dotty Kanke kick-started the partnership with the Vancouver Firefighters Charitable Society. Over 16 years it has encompassed everything from Bright Lights in Stanley Park, to Burn Fund events, Umbrella Sales and now the Food Snacks for east side school kids. That program discreetly delivers healthy snacks to children who aren’t getting the nutrition they need at home. Last year they gave out 30,000 snacks and this year plan to double it. You can read about the program here.
Over the years, Joe Fortes has raised over $2 million for charity. That’s a milestone in itself.
Bud Kanke remains one of the most successful restaurateurs in the city’s history. Not only that, but there are many people of a certain age in the industry, and many even today, who either got their start at Kanke Restaurants, or worked for them at some point.
A couple of years ago I wrote a piece saluting him, in Where Vancouver magazine.
” Steak and seafood specialist, brass-and-wood-trimmed Joe Fortes—home since 1985 to the city’s first modern-day oyster bar—still lures with its lively scene and well-concealed roof garden above Robson at Thurlow. Kanke recalls it was Joe Fortes that held the city’s first shucking contest—and hired the first female shucker. Still in the seafood vein, which he realised had been previously undeveloped, Kanke took over the aptly named Fish House in Stanley Park, a bucolic former groundskeeper’s cottage….”
Next week, Joe’s is marking the occasion with some lunch deals between Nov 16th and 20th, when six classic lunchtime items will be offered at 1985 prices. Think shrimp cocktails for $5.95 or a New York steak at $11.95.
See you there!