For 18 years, restaurateur John Blakeley has been serving some of Vancouver's finest French food at Bistro Pastis.
But next month, a new owner will take over the elegant and popular lunch and dinner spot at 2153 West 4th Avenue.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Blakeley said he decided to sell his restaurant after he celebrated his 60th birthday.
"I wanted to stay at the top and leave at the top," Blakeley said. "So it was a hard decision but it's the right decision."
Blakeley, a member of the B.C Restaurant Hall of Fame, emphasized that Bistro Pastis is doing well. But he also said that he's seen other restaurants deteriorate with age when the owner's energy level diminnishes. And he wanted to avoid that happening to Bistro Pastis.
West 4th Avenue has become of Vancouver's premier restaurant hot spots, but it wasn't always this way.
"John Bishop [of Bishop's] was way ahead of me," Blakeley said. "At the time I opened Pastis, there were maybe four restaurants in the whole stretch from here down to Burrard Street."
The new owner is Stefen Langford, a former Best Buy Canada marketing executive who grew up in Kitsilano. He told the Straight by phone that Bistro Pastis will continue serving French food.
"It's a fabulous restaurant," he said. "We're going to keep it the same."
Langford said it's been his dream to own a restaurant since he was a 19-year-old busboy working at the now-defunct Orestes on Vancouver's West Side. He's also worked at the Four Seasons and Bridges.
"I think Pastis offers something unique inasmuch as it's a place that you can go and have a conversation even when it's busy," Langford noted. "The tables are not pushed all together. The music isn't too loud. The acoustics lend itself to conversation."
He also estimated that there could be as much as $50 million or $60 million in annual restaurant sales in the three-block area of West 4th Avenue extending from Arbutus to Burrard Street. And this cluster of dining establishments is bringing large numbers of people to the area to eat.
"You want people to be aware of who you are and you want them to be in their consideration and hopefully their preference for a beautiful evening out," he said.
Blakeley said that he intends on remaining in the restaurant industry, but it likely won't be in Vancouver. He's seen many people from Vancouver buy homes in the suburbs where there are lots of chain restaurants, but not nearly as many high-quality, locally owned, cozy neighbourhood places to dine.
"I'm talking about Langley, Abbotsford, or it could be Port Coquitlam," he said.
And when he eventually opens his next place, it will appeal to a wide variety of patrons.
"French is still considered a specialist restaurant for a special occasion," Blakeley stated. "I will give credit to the Italians. They always manage to bring the pizza and pasta on. It's definitely more casual food."