In the restaurant business, there’s one thing you never say and that’s no, for one simple reason — you want to keep people happy.
That’s the bottom line for Mario Enero, who has opened, owned and/or managed more restaurants than most people frequent in a year, including his long-time Whistler stalwarts, La Rúa and Caramba!
Not that I was ever formally trained by anybody as savvy as Mario, but I understood the same principle when I worked at Orestes’ on Broadway in Vancouver way back when.
It was a debauched, over-the-top kind of place — the longest running show on Broadway is how owners Aristedes Pasparakis and Blaine Culling touted it — where patrons would joyfully, willingly stand in line for hours to get inside. Once in, just about anything might happen including lots that, in most places, would get you arrested. But while you waited, Blaine or Aristedes poured the retsina like water just to keep everybody happy.
“The people had a big smile even before they sat down,” recalls Mario.
We “girls” who worked the main floor, as we were known, also figured out how to keep them smiling, even when we’d run out of their favourite wine or dish.
I probably waited on Mario back then, for he loved the casserole made of stuffed squid in ink, a dish he’d enjoyed at home in Spain, which he left at the ripe old age of 27, intending to work in Canada for a year.
But he fell in love with the place. So there he was, part of the Orestes’ scene in between running various Umberto restaurants and starting up Emilio’s, another of Aristedes’ decadent creations. Neither Mario nor the restaurant lasted too long, but that’s another story.
Despite some challenges, Vancouver was “happening” in the early ’80s, as was Whistler when Mario arrived to manage Umberto’s Il Caminetto.
“That was the best of Whistler at that time. It was the golden years,” says Mario. “People who were coming here were all in their late 20s and early 30s. That was a big impact because everyone had a lot of energy — when you think about someone like Hugh Smythe, how much energy he had and how much he did at Blackcomb.
“All the key people in town were young and we all knew each other because of the smaller scale. If you were looking for a plumber or electrician you didn’t have to make a phone call — you just went to Tapley’s.”