Meet the man who founded The Keg 50 years ago in North Van

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As the big brand celebrates 50 years of drinks and steaks, here’s how it all started at a small, bustling Lower Lonsdale restaurant.

Today, it’s a powerful international brand, a restaurant synonymous with great steak dinners and milestone celebrations at more than 150 locations across Canada and the United States.

But half a century ago, it was a small restaurant on the ground floor of an old industrial building in North Vancouver’s Lower Lonsdale neighborhood.

George Tidball, described as “a visionary and a cowboy” in a 2014 obituary, opened the Keg ‘n Cleaver restaurant in 1971 at 132 Esplanade West in North Vancouver. That place no longer exists—in fact, North Vancouver is now one of the largest municipalities in the Lower Mainland without a Keg restaurant—but the laid-back, upscale vibe that Keg patrons know today was created in this little North Vancouver space.

“It was a very unique concept at the time, because there were restaurants in the hotel, then there was White Spot and McDonalds, and nothing in between,” Tidball’s daughter Kathy said. Robbins, who held various jobs at the Keg chain before becoming a kindergarten teacher. . Robbins was 19 when the first Keg opened, and she remembers it as a place with great food and great energy.

“What I mainly remember is that The Keg was a huge party place,” she said with a laugh. “There was as much booze as you could drink and as much food as you could eat, and all the young people working there were university students, so it had the energy level. Like, it just vibrated .

Cheap drinks and singing waiters

At the start of The Keg, Tidball sat down with famed restaurateur Hy Aisenstat, founder of the Hy’s Steakhouse chain, and came away with a helpful tip.

“Hy said if you’re going to make cheap drinks, make them really cheap,” Robbins said, adding that his dad put that into practice at the start of The Keg. “Drinks were 60 cents and specialty drinks like martinis or spanish coffees were cash.”

The original Keg ‘n Cleaver location had about 120 seats, and staff were proud to turn those tables around as quickly as possible, Robbins said. She remembers the restaurant humming like a well-oiled machine on busy weekend evenings.

“The busboys used to have competitions to see how many tables they could clear, and the hostesses would try to get people seated as soon as the last setting was made,” Robbins said. “It was just designed for high-volume, high-energy entertainment. … You wanted a job at the Keg. You made a lot of money, good advice. There were a lot of people who went to college in working at The Keg.”

Servers were sometimes known to finish off a guest’s leftover highball or make someone’s uneaten piece of steak disappear on the way back to the kitchen, Robbins said of those early days in North Vancouver. The restaurant was also often filled with song, as staff members serenaded guests celebrating milestones, sometimes even tying people to their chairs and hoisting them into the air, Robbins said.

“There didn’t seem to be that many rules,” she laughs. “I think the people they hired were really important – they were very energetic people. … It was just a really fun place. That’s what I remember more than anything. And the food was always very good.

50th anniversary menu pays homage to the past

Tidball’s run as owner ended in the 1980s when he sold The Keg to British company Whitbred. In the 1990s, the chain changed hands again, with Hy’s son David Aisenstat acquiring The Keg and building it into the brand it is today.

To celebrate its anniversary, The Keg is now offering a limited-time menu inspired by some of the favorite dishes of the past 50 years. The menu includes classics such as The Keg’s Pecan Sirloin, Neptune Salmon, Spinach Parmesan Crab Dip, and Mile High Chocolate Cake, as well as some newly minted items like the Rib Eye. with French Onion of 14 oz.

“The Keg has held a unique place in the lives of Canadians since it first opened, and we’ve found that for many, celebrations at The Keg are a rite of passage,” said Jimmy duDomaine, Vice President of Marketing and food at The Keg. services. “With our 50th anniversary menu, we wanted to celebrate where we have been and where we intend to go.”

It’s good to see that the chain her father started in the early 1970s is still going strong today, Robbins said.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it? Because longevity in the restaurant business is unusual,” she said, adding that she could definitely see her father’s personality reflected in the makeup of the restaurant chain. “He was a charmer. … I remember one time one of the managers of The Keg was talking to him, and he said, ‘You know, George, I really appreciate that you always talk to the little people. And my dad said, ‘Rod, there are no little people. It’s just people. He had to do with dishwashers, with busboys, with waiters, with management. He really enjoyed being around people, and I think that really showed.

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