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Richard Jaffray was surfing the other day with a talented 60-year-old buddy down in Santa Monica, where he’s got a little condo. “That’s where I want to be in 10 years,” he says now in the private dining room of Cactus Club Cafe’s Coal Harbour flagship, built last year at a cost of $7.5 million. Surfing more he means, and better, though he has other ambitions too, like doubling the number of Cactuses (after a quarter-century he’s at 25), expanding across the country and into the U.S., and maybe making executive chef Rob Feenie a truly household name with CC-branded ready-to-eat meals. “But not everything on the menu,” he cautions. “We’d still want people to come into the restaurants.”
Since he opened his first in 1988 (on Pemberton Ave. in North Van-it’s still there), a lot of people have done just that, which makes him and silent partner Stan Fuller very happy. The two met when Jaffray, 19, was a waiter at Fuller’s Earls, living out of a sailboat-a step up from his car and ultimately the collateral for his first venture, West Broadway’s Café Cucamongas. Fuller (and the bankers) saw something in the confident Calgarian and took a chance on his vision of a casual spot for sandwiches, trendy frozen yogurt (he thinks he had the country’s first Yogen Früz-style machine, inspired by a story in Entrepreneur magazine), and-just nascent-gourmet cappuccinos.
The scale has changed-25 employees at the first Cactus have grown to 3,000 today-but the careful mix of sophistication, comfort, and quality have held steady through the years. There have been missteps (three Alberta locations had to close for the sake of the chain), but consistent, monumental growth made Jaffray the judges’ clear choice for this year’s lifetime achievement award.