Marpole: Japan meets France in young chef’s dream

Cafe de L’Orangerie owner works relentless shifts

In a corner restaurant in a small strip mall near southwest Marine Drive at Hudson, surrounded by low-rise apartment buildings and bucolic trees, diners enjoy a mid-week lunch. Customers chat with friends or sit alone tapping their phones.

Yamato Takahashi, owner of Café de L’Orangerie at 1320 West 73rd Ave., which serves Japanese-fusion food, is busy in the kitchen preparing orders. The well-worn lunch menu offers items including Masago De Creamy Spaghetti, Japanese-style Napolitan spaghetti, Japanese curry & beef stew, Niçoise salad with a mini bagel and Teriyaki hamburger steak.

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Takahashi initially opened his restaurant in a smaller space on Granville and 70th in August of 2010, but decided the kitchen wasn’t big enough to prepare more elaborate dishes and there wasn’t room for sufficient seating. In 2013, he moved to his current location.

He’s a relative newcomer to Canada, having moved from Japan to Vancouver in 2005.

“I didn’t know Canada is so good until I came here,” he said last month during a short break between orders.

Takahashi wants to improve his English, although he communicates well.

The 33-year-old worked at a sushi restaurant in West Vancouver until 2009. He considered moving to Montreal and visited the city for a month during the winter, but decided Vancouver offered a more promising future, partly due to a larger Japanese community, making it easier to start a business with help from Japanese-speaking professionals such as lawyers and accountants.

Takahashi wasn’t familiar with Marpole, but rented his first Granville Street space in the neighbourhood because the lease rate was “reasonable” for Vancouver.

“I thought I just needed to start if I wanted [to do it],” he said.

His father, who owns an electric company in Japan but always wanted to open a restaurant, invested in the business.

Takahashi’s training is in French cuisine. He studied in Tokyo for two years after high school and spent a year in Lyon, France for further study. He also worked at a French restaurant in Tokyo.

“My dream [in Vancouver] is to do more French cuisine, but it’s not easy, so I just started my own style,” he says.

L’Orangerie attracts Marpole and Richmond residents, as well as many customers of Asian origin. Some have even suggested menu items — and Takahashi has obliged with a few tweaks.

Masago De Creamy Spaghetti is one of the most popular orders, as well as Chicken Nanban.

Starting a business from scratch hasn’t been easy, Takahashi acknowledged.

“At the beginning I didn’t have customers. I was working by myself,” he says.

These days he works six days a week from about 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., or midnight on busy nights. He spends a day on paperwork.

With hard work and help from friends, business has steadily increased.

“It’s my business. Sometimes I need to work [long hours]. Do I like? Very much. No stress. Just sometimes I want to sleep more, but I’m very happy,” said Takahashi who now has eight part and full-time staff. “My schedule is a little bit hard, but the business of making money is a little easier.”

Takahashi doesn’t feel successful yet — his goal is to serve more French cuisine, more wine and offer more elegant service. But he has time.

“I have another 30 or 40 years to finish my dream. I think I’ll work till I’m 65 years old, but I don’t think I can work this schedule,” he said with a laugh.

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