Chef Steve Fecho took a chance on the Match Eatery & Public House in Squamish and it's a bet that is paying off in spades.
Not only is the eatery one of the most popular places to dine in Squamish, the chef is helping to launch similar restaurants at Chances Community Gaming Centres in other parts of B.C.
Fecho got his first taste of working in a kitchen during his time with the navy — it was only a part-time position as his real career was seeking out submerged bombs and other threats.
After a short stint in cooking school he decided to leave that training behind for a two-year apprenticeship at the Westin Bayshore, then it was on to Lumiere in Vancouver, where he worked with chef Robert Feenie.
"I started the day Rob's first cookbook came out," says Fecho. "I was there for that, the TV show (Top Chef Canada), we opened up Feenie's and then we did the other cookbook Lumière Light. It was great. While I was there for two years it was the restaurant of the year both years. Just after I left Iron Chef came up."
While Fecho admits it was a huge amount of work he connected with some very well known chefs from around the world and learned a great deal from them. Working with Feenie meant maintaining global accreditations and being critiqued by all kinds of people, he adds.
"It was an unbelievable catalyst to where I am today," Fecho says. "Everybody that worked there was on their game."
The next stop for Fecho was the Vancouver Club, where his experience included tableside cooking and fine dining food preparation for some of Vancouver's wealthiest residents and visitors.
While working at the club he and his family moved from Vancouver to Squamish. As commuting took its toll, he decided to open up his own place where he lived.
"I opened The Cup in October 2008," says Fecho. "It was open for four years to the day. I literally opened on Halloween and closed on Halloween."
He describes the bistro he owned as a premium outlet in a blue-collar town. The pricing was high-end, but The Cup's primary challenge was finding and keeping a staff that allowed Fecho to keep going.
"The lease was up and I hadn't been home for four years," he says simply by way of explaining why it was time to close the doors of The Cup.
Not long after closing the opportunity to open Match Eatery & Public House at the Chances Community Gaming Centre (on Highway 99) at the south end of Squamish presented itself and he hasn't looked back. The pub opened late last year offering what Fecho calls fun and casual pub food.
"It's very much a menu that can be shared with a group of friends," he says.
"This is a fun casual place. We try to keep it light and keep you comfortable."
The job started as a chef gig, but has evolved now into chef and general manager of the restaurant. Match is a chain of one at the moment with plans underway to expand the brand to the Chances outlets in Vernon next month, Langley in June and New Westminster in July.
Fecho is playing a role in getting the other operations up and running based on the Squamish model.
Key to that success, he believes, is customer service.
"The Vancouver Club really got me focused on customer service," says Fecho. "You're not always right as the chef. Because someone's steak is medium rare and it's perfectly medium rare and they ordered medium rare but they want it a bit more well done it's really no reason to get upset or lose your mind. Just cook it a little bit more.
"At the end of the day, your customer coming back is your pay cheque."
Fecho understands that happy customers will return and unhappy customers probably won't make a repeat visit.
He feels that the ultimate compliment for him is the customer who isn't interested in the gaming at the Chances centre and visits just for the food.
Now that Fecho is the chef and general manager of one of Squamish's busiest restaurants he doesn't get into the water for recreational diving much any more — the scuba tanks are closed, the suit no longer in use.
The closest he gets to underwater explorations these days is preparing a grilled salmon topped with a spicy maple hazelnut glaze.
Grilled Chorizo Caesar Salad
2 Chorizo Sausages
1 large head of romaine lettuce
10-16 cherry tomatoes
8-10 garlic cloves
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Your favorite Caesar dressing
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Sautee garlic in 2 tbsp of vegetable oil until golden brown and cook in a 350 oven for 20 minutes.
Clean the romain lettuce leaving the whole head intact. Grill the Chorizo on both sides, cooking until done. Cut the romaine in half through the root and grill the cut sides for three minutes on high heat. At the same time roast the cherry tomatoes for three minutes on the grill as well. Assemble with the romaine - grilled side up and drizzle with Caesar dressing.
Place roasted garlic and tomatoes on the romaine and add the chorizo.
Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!