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End of a culinary era in Ladner
“I had a customer come in with her husband the other night and they sat at probably the ugliest table in the house, not because we put them there, we were so busy that was the only one available,” says Bruno Marti, telling the story while standing on the porch of his Ladner restaurant, La Belle Auberge. “And when they got up to leave the wife started crying. And I asked why. She told me they were moving to Toronto and one of the things they were going to miss the most was eating here.”
Marti stops for a moment as the emotion starts welling up and adds, “And if I’ve managed to affect people that way it about sums up what this place has all been about.”
Last month, Marti put his restaurant in the 107-year-old D.B. Grant heritage house on 48th Ave. up for sale.
Marti, who has run the renowned, upscale dining location for the past 32 years says he decided late last year to start looking at life beyond the business.
“Eventually, everybody retires,” Marti says laughing.
He adds that he’s not entirely sure if it’s his time just yet. Much of the timing depends on finding a buyer for the property which is listed at $1.1 million.
“The ideal situation would be for a new owner to come along and give me three months to wind things down,” he said. “That way I could tell all my customers from over the years to come back for one last time.”
Since Marti’s cooking has been the reason why customers were drawn to the Ladner location, he understands selling the business will pose a bit of a hitch.
“A restaurant like mine has a problem and that is it tries to run with me. And it’s a monster I created 32 years ago whereby I wanted to be the best. And I still am,” he says. “But the problem is people today don’t always want the best. They are happy with mediocrity.”
Changes to the enforcement of B.C.’s drinking driving laws also hurt the business in the past couple of years as customers were less inclined patronize establishments and order liquor if they had to travel a distance home afterwards.
“That gave me a hint that I can no longer rely on the people who came here from out of town,” Marti says.
But plenty have made the trip over the years, and that included those who rate restaurants, such as Zagat Survey, which gave La Belle Auberge glowing reviews.
“Some of those (business) conditions came into play, plus my age as well,” says Marti who is 72, but far from ready to hang up his chef’s hat.
“It’s not that I’m old, ailing or hate the place. I’m still in love with it. But at the same time I need to be reasonable,” he says. “None of my kids want it. And I have to say to myself, I have to do what I have to do.”
He sat his staff down last December, prior to the annual month-long break he takes in January, and told them about his decision to sell.
“They understood,” Marti says. “But I told them that as long as that front door is open, we will continue to serve the best meal in this province, and pretty much anywhere,” he says.