Chef Dale MacKay closes ensemble and ensembleTap restaurants
Top Chef Canada Winner Dale MacKay, best-known for his fierce competitiveness, confirms that he is throwing in the proverbial towel and closing both of his Vancouver restaurants. MacKay, who opened ensemble restaurant and bar and ensemble Tap (eTap) in 2011 after winning season one of Food Network Canada’s Top Chef Canada loves ‘Food City’ but can’t make traditional restaurant business math work in what he calls ’Top Rent Canada’. The dinner service offered this past Saturday at ensemble on Thurlow Street and at ensemble Tap on Smithe Street, was the final service for both restaurants.
“I learned quickly that opening a restaurant in the heart of Vancouver is something I should have done after building my business and expansion capital in markets that support my restaurant business plan. As it is in the Vancouver core, with the rents being so high and the market saturated with fabulous restaurants, I’d have to subsidize both operations far longer than makes good business sense – plus I have a young son to raise and he remains my priority.”
MacKay admits that, he should have started in one of the lower rent districts on the margins of the city, where many new restaurants are springing up and where the edgy qualities of transition create a more relaxed culture. “I’m willing to fall on my own sword and admit I was wrong. If seasoned restaurateurs like Daniel Boulud find it unprofitable to compete in Vancouver, it was bold of me to think I could make the math work any better. As the ‘for lease’ signs started going up all around me on Robson, I saw the writing on the wall and had to ignore my ego and make the best decision for myself and for my son.”
Unlike many new restaurateurs, MacKay didn’t spend exorbitantly on remodeling or kitchen equipment, or even advertising. “Even so, in hindsight, I should have raised more investment capital, so that I could expand sooner to help subsidize Thurlow and Smithe, or self-subsidize for a longer stretch of time. It was also a mistake to expect, in a city like Vancouver, where residents have several established favourite restaurants and so many recreational and cultural options that take them out of restaurants entirely, an enduring market for a new fine dining caliber concept like ensemble, even at entry-level prices, and even if it is offered in a casual setting.”
The Top Chef Canada experience exposed Chef MacKay to more than the media spotlight and an opportunity to become a restaurateur. “Being front of house in my restaurants and on tour for the network and for sponsors taught me so much about Canadians and really opened my eyes to our food and restaurant culture – saturated in major centres and sadly under-represented in most secondary and smaller markets. I’d like to see that change someday soon, but for now I will concentrate my attention on several culinary efforts that I’ve been chipping away at since winning Top Chef Canada and also catch-up on some consulting projects.”
Harder of course than closing the doors of ensemble and ensemble Tap, will be parting daily company with his restaurant family. “I can’t say enough good things about my staff – many of whom have been with me four or five years. They are the most loyal, hard-working, positive group of people, and without their encouragement and support I would never have made it this far, or perhaps even dared to try. To my friends, industry partners, food media and restaurant clients, I would like to say a ‘huge’ thank you for the fabulous Tweets, posts and messages. Thank you for your confidence, support and good wishes, and thank you for understanding my decision.”
Chef MacKay will remain a major culinary presence in Vancouver. MacKay can’t comment yet on what the near future brings but he will keep followers informed via his Facebook Page at http://www.facebook.com/chefdalemackay or personal website www.chefdalemackay.com (going live this week).
About Chef Dale MacKay
Chef MacKay’s resume, like his culinary style, is condensed and flavourful. Highlights include time spent as a private chef in Italy; as Executive Chef at an exclusive BC resort; protégé to Chef Gordon Ramsay at his restaurants in Tokyo, New York, and London; then as Executive Chef of Lumière, Vancouver’s Five Diamond, Four Star, Relais Gourmand establishment managed by New York Chef Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group. At the age of 27, MacKay made culinary history as the youngest Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux in the world.
In July, 2011, he was voted Canada’s Top Chef, by the judging panel of Food Network Canada’s inaugural season of Top Chef Canada, which aired nationally (MacKay made history once again when the 13-episode series became the highest rated program in network history). When Chef MacKay is not in the restaurant kitchen, he and his son Ayden keep busy doing homework, exploring city restaurants, and visiting family and friends. MacKay is committed to passing his good fortune forward, mentoring at-risk youth, and working with aspiring young chefs.