In 1974 Valentine and Lesley Aguirre fulfilled a lifelong dream when they opened The Old Surrey Restaurant, a French fine dining establishment. The couple had previously worked all over the world, with Valentine receiving his training in France before working in many of North America’s largest hotels, including the Hotel Vancouver.
In this industry it’s not uncommon to see two generations working side by side, so it was only natural when Val and Lesley’s son Philip Aguirre bought the restaurant from them in 2007. Philip, who is also The Old Surrey Restaurant’s executive chef, guides his brigade in an old-school approach with a dedication to the classic style of French cooking. His signature dishes are those prepared tableside and customer favourites include the caesar salad, chateaubriand, and of course, the flambéed desserts.
Does Aguirre believe he was destined to take the reigns of his family’s business? Sure. It just took a degree in Commerce, a brief stint as an accountant, and a spontaneous move to France as an adventurous twenty-something to figure it out. We talked to him to find out more about growing up as part of a family business…
“I worked at a small French restaurant in St Jean de Luz and taught at the local culinary school in the neighboring city of Biarritz,” he told us. “This happened to be the same area where my father was born and started his journey. Coincidence? I think not. France is where the lure of the family business was rekindled and I came back to my foreshadowed destiny.” Aguirre subsequently took ownership from his parents in 2007.
Aguirre recalls growing up with a father that loved westerns:
“Like most immigrant boomers he thought Clint Eastwood was a role model! The 1966 classic movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly really hits home with the ever so delicate dance of having a family business. Fantastically, the roles reversed when I took ownership in 2007.” Aguirre’s parents retired from the hectic, all-consuming restaurant industry in 2007, but he knows that they’re never more than an encouraging phone call away. As he pointed out: “No one understands the difficulties that you are going through like a parent and previous owner.”
Aguirre and his wife met in first year university back in 1997. Now they have two boys, and baby girl and two thriving restaurants. He believes that balance is the key to life and puts his family first, crediting their support with the success he’s found in business.
He’s also been given the opportunity to take on a leadership role as Executive Director of the Newton Business Association. Both roles are surprisingly similar, in that in one he’s serving his customers and in the other he has the pleasure of serving him community. Next to family, we get the feeling that for Aguirre, community is a top priority.
“I take an extreme amount of pride in Newton,” he explained. “My success is the community of Newton’s success, and at the same time, the success of my family business, The Old Surrey Restaurant.”
Where does he see himself in the future?
“I am totally and fully invested in the long term growth and revitalization of Newton. Proud to be here for the past forty years. Looking forward to the next forty.”