Chef Rob Feenie is ready to get back into the kitchen.
After 15 years with the Cactus Club as their executive chef, he’s actively making plans to open his own restaurant again, tentatively named Feenie’s 2.0.
“I haven’t been involved in the kitchen as much as I’d like to be, for last three and half to four years,” says Feenie. “I became more of a taster and adviser.”
His last day at Cactus Club was this past Sunday, but he’s quick to point out that he and owner Stan Fuller, and the rest of the CC team, have parted on good terms. “I love Cactus, I love the people, and I bawled my eyes out when it was my last day,” he says. “They’re supportive of this. I know I can go to Stan any time for advice.”
Longtime Vancouverites will remember Feenie’s pre-Cactus endeavours, Lumière and Feenie’s, the pair of restaurants that Feenie and business partner Ken Wai opened in 1995—and both restaurants still have a positive legacy here. As our former food editor Neal McLennan noted back in 2019, in the 12 years from 1997 to 2008, our coveted Restaurant of the Year award was won by one of two restaurants: Lumière (seven times) or West (five times).
Lumière RestaurantLumière was also the training ground for so many of the top chefs this city has seen, including Marc-Andre Choquette (Tableau), JC Poirier (St. Lawrence), Wendy Boys (Cactus Club, Cocolico), Frank Pabst (Blue Water), Eleanor Chow (Chambar), Ned Bell (Naramata Inn) and more. It was home for so many front-of-house stars, too, including Lauren Mote (Bittered Sling), Sebastien le Goff (Cactus Club), Paul Grunberg (Savio Volpe) and Andre McGillivray (The Wolf and the Fog).
Feenie left in 2007 after a public dispute with its owners (David Sidoo, who had his own bout of infamy with the college admissions scandal), but his impact—and Lumière’s—had a lasting effect on the dining scene.
For his new venture, Feenie is currently working with a good friend who’s “one of the best restaurant seekers in the city,” and has hopes to find a spot on the west side, his old stomping grounds, or possibly downtown. He’s tapped some heavy hitters to serve as advisors as he works toward a launch date in Spring/Summer 2023: both Bob Mathiesen (accountant and owner of three Keg franchises) and Jim Stewart (former VP of Cactus, current strategic advisor for the brand) have been guiding the process of getting him to opening day.
“Fifteen years ago people wondered what I was doing, going to Cactus,” says Feenie. “But I look back at it now and it was one of the best decisions of my career, working with Richard Jaffray and Cactus—it was going to university for how to run a company, and how to manage thousands of people.”
Longtime fans of Feenie’s cooking will see fan-favourites on the menu, possibly with menu items inspired by his second win of Iron Chef Canada in 2018. “It’ll be a bit higher end, similar to what I did at the Lumiere bar,” he says. “It was so much fun—I want to take what I did there and build on it.
“As we’re talking about the business and locations, I wrote 90 potential menu items down on a piece of paper. I’m not short of ideas—when you come back you’ll recognize some of them, and I want some familiarity when people come back, for sure. But I also want them to see the 2.0 version.”
And as word has gotten out, the requests for Feenie’s-favourites have been coming in. “Even Ken [Wai], my old partner—he said, ‘are you bringing the beef dip back? Because my mom was asking.'”
“It’s almost 25 years later, which is hard to believe,” says Feenie. “I was 29 when I opened Lumière, and I’m so excited about doing this again. There’s no doubt I’m nervous—if I’m not nervous, I would be a fool. That’s just part of the process. But I’m also very excited.
“When I look at people like Michel Jacob [Le Crocodile], one of my mentors—Michel is still behind the stove almost 40 years later. That’s something I love – I love food, I love making people happy, and that’s all I want to do.”