Victoria eatery owners and chef headed to restaurant hall of fame

Three Victoria restaurant veterans have been inducted into the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association’s Hall of Fame. And while that kind of honour tends to come at the end of a career, it doesn’t appear any of them are about to lay down their knives any time soon.

The husband-and-wife team of Greg Hays and Silvia Marcolini, owners of Cafe Brio, and Takashi Ito, executive chef at Aura inside the Inn at Laurel Point were inducted in a ceremony in Vancouver that saw 11 industry veterans honoured for work both in dining rooms and in the kitchen.

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All three Victoria-based honourees were caught off guard by the nod. “This was kind of out of the blue, but it’s a great thing,” said Hays. “Recognition from the people in your industry is always a wonderful thing.”

Ito, who moved to Aura after a long career with Fairmont hotels, also said he was taken by surprise. “I never thought about this kind of thing.”

For Hays and Marcolini, it’s a tip of the cap for 17 years of following their vision for Cafe Brio.

“It’s always been about treating people that come to our restaurant like they are friends coming to our house for dinner,” said Hays.

They believe in a sincere and honest approach to their food and hospitality. “It’s not ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ — if I’m being sarcastic and having some fun with you ... it’s because I like you.”

Part of ensuring that charm is pervasive is having an owner in the restaurant almost every night.

“I think that says something. There are a lot of bigger restaurants that are not necessarily being run by owners. That doesn’t make them bad restaurants. It just means they are not getting quite the same personal touch that we give here,” Hays said.

Cafe Brio was born of a vision of establishing a traditional Italian restaurant that played heavily on local ingredients, with the owners in full control of their business. Hays noted the eatery was on the 100-mile diet long before it “became a thing.”

Hays opened and operated the Herald Street Cafe from 1982 to 1992, and learned from that experience. “All those years at Herald Street taught me that the landlord is going to get richer and richer. Leases don’t go down. They only go up,” Hays said.

Hayes left Herald Street to work with Bob Wright re-establishing the restaurant at the Oak Bay Marina. After a three-year term in 1996, he was intent on owning a new place. Cafe Brio was the result. “We got lucky here and were able to build exactly what we wanted,” Hays said.

For Ito, the award is a pat on the back for keeping his nose to the grindstone. “I think it’s a good example of hard work, opening up the opportunities and challenges and someone out there has recognized it,” he said.

Ito, who emigrated to Canada in 1980 in his mid-20s, said he came late to the industry and had to work harder to make it. “I knew I had a lot to catch up on, but I worked hard and studied well,” he said. “I was always open to opportunities. I had a busy life, but I also had fun. I met great people and great leaders.”

Ito has cooked for Queen Elizabeth, the princess of Japan and leaders of the G-8 countries. He also won the 1992 world title for ice carving.

Ito has been working in kitchens for 34 years. As executive chef, he no longer chops and sears every day, but he’s not ready to be put out to pasture.

“As much as I tell people I’m getting older and have been around the industry a long time, inside of me, I’m thinking I’m not done here. I still have lots to do,” he said. “Every day I have fun at work.”

Hays can relate. While he admits he and Marcolini have discussed a transition and retirement, he’s quick to note it’s not that appealing.

“At the end of the day I like work. I really, really enjoy coming to work and nothing has changed in that regard,” he said. “Besides, what would I do, grow tomatoes? I would miss having a crisis every day.”

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