Sean Sherwood, owner of West Broadway’s Fiction.
URBAN DINER: How did you start in the restaurant business?
Sean Sherwood: I started as a dishwasher at 15 yrs old. I ended up working every position, and learning all about hustle. There was no glamour, no passion for ‘the craft’ and no apologies for the work. You either kept up, or got out.
UD: Any learned advice for an aspiring restaurateur?
SS: Do NOT under-capitalize. Or under-medicate.
UD: What is an important detail that every restaurateur, veteran or beginner, should always remember, but often forgets?
SS: The customer is why we do this, not the media, or our peers, or anything else. If that person in the chair stops being the most important person to you, the path becomes lost.
UD: The launch of Century was one of the most exciting and scrutinized restaurant openings in recent memory, would you, with the benefit of hindsight, have done anything different with it?
SS: Hindsight being 20-20, I’d never hire a French chef to run a latin kitchen. I also learned a tremendous amount about my partnership group and how difficult it was to achieve a creative vision through management by committee.
We had originally planned to have the nightclub upstairs opened at the same time, and thanks to our great friends at the city it has managed to open exactly one year later. In hindsight, one would think that perhaps a little yellow envelope would at least be worth a try.
UD: Where do you see Vancouver going in regards to our dining culture?
SS: With the nature of rents and taxes, I think we’re going to continue to see small rooms and a continued departure from fusion and gimmickry. I would love to see a city filled with neighbourhoods, each with it’s joints, its bistros and brasseries. When we build neighbourhoods, people take ownership of them, and their locals, and make the entire experience a little more unique and meaningful.
Organic, local, fresh and moral, philosophies have taken root, but we’re still bridging the gap between what it costs, and what people will pay for it. Chefs are still architecting bridges between the local suppliers and farmers, and soon there will be a well-established network to allow more great local ingredients onto the plates of diners for less cost.
UD: What aspect of the industry do you see Vancouver needing to improve or mature to advance to a higher level?
SS: It might sound odd, but I truly believe that we’ve got to start taking ourselves way less seriously. Food and wine, sorry, Hospitality, is not the grand gastronomic wank-fest of local organic this paired with bio-dynamic that in an environment of charka aligning perfection. Screw that. This is all a foil for socializing, of meeting and exchanging ideas and celebrating life, not criticizing it to death. Sure, as craftspeople we obsess over the minutiae, but it’s so our guests don’t have to. Take pictures when you’re at El Buli, otherwise, save the megapixels for your wife, or sister, or lover, whatever.
We need to start simplifying, and soon, or we’re facing some creepy new fusion in the near future.
UD: In regards to Vancouver’s dining culture, what is our greatest strength?
SS: Obviously the multiculturalism here is fantastic, and nowhere do we enjoy it more than downtown, where it’s wonderfully mixed up. Add to that our access to brilliant ingredients and it’s obvious why the city is gaining notoriety.
We’re brand new, as well, and restaurateurs have the opportunity to build neighbourhoods, like Yaletown, Crosstown, the Heritage District etc.. While it’s a tremendous risk, restauranteurs are usually the first to strike out in search of cheap rents and unique venues, and we have an opportunity to help shape this beautiful city’s development.
UD: Our greatest weakness?
SS: It’s so damn expensive to live here, people don’t get out and explore restaurants enough. It isn’t getting any cheaper, either, so either restaurants are going to have to cut costs (and ultimately, quality) or we’ll have fewer restaurants. There isn’t much room on either side to give.
UD: How are you dealing with the staffing shortage in the industry?
SS: My plan to convert homeless people into chefs is almost coming into fruition, then we’ll have the solution to everyone’s problems.
Seriously, though, we’re lucky to have a tremendous staff who enjoy the environment. Most of what we do is to ensure that the team enjoys where they are and what they’re doing and ultimately, that’s what matters most. We are quite lucky that we’re small enough to be picky, which allows us to build a team that is a great fit and great to work with.
I truly love my staff and I hope they know that, they’re passionate, driven and creative people. If I start screwing up and treating them poorly, then I’ll have a staffing shortage, and probably go back and do it myself, not as well, for free. You can imagine I’m motivated to keep the crew happy.
R&B make excellent Ales, and are a vital part of any staff retention program.
UD: If you were to open a new restaurant, what would your dream team look like?
SS: Jeff Van Geest on pans and overseeing the brewing facilities. Andrew Wong conducting wine training. Michael Dinn/Heidi Noble overseeing winemaking operations. Ben Cote, Security. Suzanne Gaspar as GM. Mark Taylor as Maitre’D. Eddie Wong as Bar Manager. Jamie Maw, communications. Natalie Portman, personal assistant.
UD: What does the future hold for Sean Sherwood? Any new restaurants on the horizon?
SS: Sin – Dessert lounge. The seven deadly sins will be represented in unique dessert creations developed by Thomas Haas and Chef/partner Ben Cote in a liquor primary location TBA.
UD: How does Synergy Restaurant Group (Lucy Mae Brown, Fiction, Century) operate these days? Where do you spend most of your time?
SS: SRG and I were heading in different directions, and my partners were gracious enough to allow me to take Fiction back and buy me out. Obviously, I wish them very well in their future endeavours. Tom Maroon, Michael Mitton, Andrew Harris (Russell Brewery) are all still working at making Lucy Mae Brown and Century ongoing successes.
Fiction was my first restaurant, and represented a connection to the values and operational philosophies that I embraced before going into partnership with Mike and Matt. I’ve been having a great time reconnecting with the neighbourhood and steering the restaurant back to where I wanted.
I’ve recently brought in Ben Cote (Chef/Owner, Cassis Bistro) to oversee the culinary operations to great success. He and his team have been running the kitchen for well over a month and the effects have been instantaneous. Ben and I are enjoying a strategic partnership between the two restaurants while we develop our new project, Sin.
UD: It is your last meal on earth, where and what are you eating?
SS: One of everything, let’s delay this for as long as we can. Wrap those suckers in bacon while your at it.
UD: What 5 restaurants you would recommend to visiting friends to get a cross section of BC dining?