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Grey Goose Notable: Peter Girges

As you well-know, being a restaurateur is a tough gig riddled with long hours, high risks, and uncertainty. But Peter Girges somehow finds a way to make it look like he sails through with ease and never-waivering collected cool. Today's Grey Goose Notable is a true vet in the business, even though he's only 32 years old. Find out more about Peter Girges and his 20 years in the industry in today's feature

Peter Girges is co-owner and president of Rocks Glass, a Vancouver-based food service and hospitality firm that devised and implemented Opus Vancouver Hotel’s restaurant – currently incarnated as 100 Days and Nights – and has Chinois Restaurant and Pierre’s Lounge to its upcoming credits as well. Like many successful restaurateurs, the hospitality industry was introduced to Peter at a very young age.

Peter learned everything he knows about the hospitality industry from working at his father’s restaurant in Toronto. When he was 11, he used to peel potatoes in the kitchen after school and on weekends. After a few years learning the ropes, he opened his first restaurant at the age of 19 with his uncle; Brownstone a spot at the corner of Yonge and Gloucester in downtown Toronto. They then opened Solo on Yonge, and before long, Peter was anxious to move on to other ventures. He found himself in Vancouver, where he became co-owner of Glowball Group – under whose umbrella he was part of six restaurants and lounges. But a couple years ago, he decided to go out on his own, and formed Rocks Glass.

His first concepts, Chinois Restaurant – which will serve classic North American Chinese dishes like sweet and sour pork and pork fried rice – and Pierre’s – a members-only champagne and vodka bar – will be open in the next while. But during planning and construction and conceptualization for these spots, Peter entered a deal with John Evans – owner and president of Opus Vancouver Hotel – to be the operating partner for Opus’ food services. One Hundred Days and Nights was born out of this partnership. Kind of like a pop-up themed restaurant – it will maintain the same aesthetic and menu style for, no surprise, 100 days and nights – Peter wanted to create something that was a first of its kind experience for diners. To compliment Opus’ boutique brand, Peter knew something imaginative and unique had to be done, so he went completely against the grain, made the space raw and gritty which allowed the approachable North American meets Mediterranean cuisine to shine.

What Peter has accomplished with One Hundred Days and Nights isn’t something a newcomer to the hospitality industry would necessarily be able to achieve. Concepts like this come with experience and putting in many years and long hours in the industry. It’s a testament to his upbringing around restaurants; that Peter can see what the first-time restaurateur may be blind to.

“I love the hospitality aspect of it,” Peter says about the restaurant industry. “I’m never bored, and always meeting new and interesting people from all over the world.” He cites inspiration from people like friend and Swedish explorer Johan Nilson – author of the Seven Summits photobook – as muses to his creativity, and though he’s ventured in other directions over the years, always comes back to what he knows best.

For Peter, whose company Rocks Glass is made up of young employees – his right hand man in the business is 34 and the rest are for the most part younger – the challenges he had to face and his dues paid are why he’s able to be successful at his ventures at his age; he’s only 32. His advice to young professionals is to realize “nothing comes overnight. Your time will come, and your experience will help carry you through.”

Peter Girges is a Notable, and to him, notable is “anticipation and always moving forward and evolving.”

You have 3 weeks to vacation, cost is not a factor, where are you going and who are you taking?
NYC! It’ss my favourite place in the world. I don’t know how many times I’ve been there! The streets, the buildings, the subway, the food; I love everything about that city. My close friends and I will make a trip at least twice a year. A couple years back, I went for five days, I ended up staying for five weeks! I have many great friends and family that live there. I always have a place to stay. It’s truly a city that always inspires me. I can’t believe how trend-setting NYC is on an international scale, especially in the hospitality biz. You always make trips to NYC to see who’s doing what and how they are doing it. There’s nothing wrong with learning from the guys that are the best in the world. And all the best end up in NYC.

What is your general life philosophy? / What advice would you want to share with others?
Always do unto others as you would want them do to you. Karma is a bitch. My father always taught me that you must always keep your head high and never doubt yourself. He instilled a confidence in me that I will always have. You also have to be realistic. There is always a grim reality between dreams and goals. There is nothing wrong with pushing yourself, but you always need to realize what you are capable of doing. If you can’t do it, then hire someone to do it for you. There is no shame in that.

At a really young age, when I was part owner of a restaurant called Brownstone on Yonge Street in Toronto, I thought I was on top of the world. I was 19 years old and I owned my own business. We were able to turn it from a failing biz when we took it over to a really successful neighbourhood spot. My partners (who were my family) would fight all the time, and before you knew it we all walked away from the place…just like that. I had nothing the next day. It was very humbling. You realize your only as hot as your last night. That’s the way it works in this business. You always have to stay humble and be open to learning new things.

Why were the early stages of your career (which can be some of the toughest years of any successful business person’s life) worth what you are now able to enjoy?
I don’t think my father even knew it, but I was always watching him and they way he handled himself. He really made me the man I am today. He passed away a couple years ago. He always wanted to me to be a lawyer or a doctor, but I know for sure he would be proud of me if he was here seeing what I was doing.

I worked in my father’s Cafe/banquet hall/catering company at a really young age. I was experiencing situations on a daily basis that weren’t being taught in school; how to deal with people and so on. I might be 32, but I have been in the hospitality business since I was 11 years old. That’s a long time!

I might be a seasoned vet, but I’m still learning everyday. I also owe a lot to the people I put myself around. You can never run a successful business on your own: you need good people around you that have your back. From your investors to the guy plugging in the numbers to a spreadsheet. It’s hard to find in this industry.

How do you enjoy life? What are some of your life indulgences?
Three words: Eat. Drink. Friends. Being social is such an important part of life. You can’t be cooped up in your apartment all day long or every night, it’s not healthy. People need to be around others. My friends and family are very important to me. That’s why eating is so special. When you sit at a table with good people, and you eat and drink, that’s how you share experiences and have great moments. To me, every meal isn’t just for functionality, its for fun.

What do you do to keep active, healthy, and vibrant?
I’m always on my feet and on-the-go. Being in the hospitality business keeps you fit. When I moved here from Toronto eight years ago, I promised myself that I would take advantage of the great outdoors. That never really happened. I will always be a city boy at heart. Everyone is so fit and active nowadays, especially in Vancouver. Nobody works here. I feel like I’m the only chump that works everyday. But when I do have time, nothing is better than taking a bike ride around the seawall and Stanley park. You really take it for granted when you live here, but it’s the most amazing thing. It’s so good for your mind. It gives you clarity; it’s almost like meditating.

Do you cook? If yes, what is your best dish? If no, what is your favourite dish to be cooked for you?
I love to cook when I have time. If you ask any of my friends, they might say that my bolognese is pretty good. I swear by it. I always put the right amount of veal, pork, beef, fresh garlic and tomatoes in. Oh! And my secret ingredient: love. Making a good bolognese or ragu brings you back to the basics of cooking. The simplicity of it makes it complicated. Making a simple sauce…not everyone can do it. I love Italian food more than anything. Pizza, pasta, salamis, prosciutto, cheeses, etc. If it’s Italian, I’m in. At the end of the day, I’ll put my bolognese up against anyone, even an 80-year-old grandma in some village outside Roma.

What is one of your favourite lounges/restaurants? Why?
Other than my places (of course), my favourite restaurant in Vancouver has to be Cioppino’s in Yaletown. It’s probably one of the best Italian restaurants in the country. The service is always amazing, the food is always top notch, and the two brothers that own it are amazing guys. They are so “on it” when it comes to running the place. Every detail is covered. I really admire and appreciate what they do. Pino is such an amazing chef.

What is your favourite drink? / What is the best drink that you make?
At the end of the day, I’m a simple vodka soda kind of guy. It will always be my go-to.

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