Over its nearly 40-year history, Joe Fortes has become so enmeshed in the dining culture of downtown Vancouver that it’s hard to imagine the iconic chophouse anywhere else.
But for the venerable city institution that was purchased from legendary restaurateur Bud Kanke almost a decade ago, the chance to expand the Joe Fortes brand was too hard to pass up.
“Of course, what better fit than Whistler?” said marketing director Norma Cisneros.
The stylish seafood restaurant has officially opened its doors in the former Trattoria Di Umberto space, an effort that began in 2019 but was stalled by the pandemic. Maintaining the vibrant and welcoming environment Joe Fortes is known for, the new location puts a modern spin on an old classic.
“We wanted to emulate a lot of key components from Joe Fortes, so the green [colour scheme], a lot of the crown moulding; there’s a feature of wine lockers on the ceiling,” Cisneros explained. “We’re bringing in pieces of Joe Fortes from Vancouver, but really, it’s Joe Fortes designed in 2021, if you will. It’s different in its own right but still very much paying homage to our Vancouver location.”
The menu should be familiar to Joe’s regulars, specializing in classic American cuisine that emphasizes natural flavours and the finest ingredients from around the Pacific Northwest. Featuring an array of fresh-caught fish, premium oysters, and delectable chops, the menu also pays homage to its new environs with a handful of exclusive dishes and Whistlerified menu names.
“It’s very similar to our Vancouver location, wanting to ensure that that Joe Fortes experience is there,” said Cisneros, highlighting the stuffed jumbo prawns and Arctic char platter that aren’t available in Vancouver, as well as an extensive cocktail list that includes such drinks as the Blackcomb and the Village Stroll.
Hewing to the ski lifestyle, Joe’s will offer a daily après hour from 3 to 5 p.m., and unlike its Vancouver location that specializes in small plates, the Whistler restaurant will focus on larger portions fit for the post-alpine crowd.
“Especially for those in the wintertime coming off the hill from all-day snowboarding or skiing and wanting to get their fill and refuel for the day, we figured the small plates probably weren’t going to work in Whistler,” Cisneros said.
Renowned for its warmth and hospitality, Joe Fortes’ roughly 40-strong staff is a mix of locals and Vancouver transplants, Cisneros said. The newcomers recently went through a culinary boot camp of sorts to get acquainted with the menu and high service standard.
‘It was really cool to see a lot of our Whistler staff come down to Vancouver while we were getting open to experience that style of service and get that firsthand recognition,” she added. “That was three weeks of intensive doing everything from culture to service standards to systems and operations. We covered it all.”
Like so many businesses contending with the ongoing labour shortage, Joe’s has been challenged filling out its team, but with housing available to full-time staff, not to mention the restaurant’s distinguished reputation, they are hopeful to add some back-of-house staff in the coming weeks.
“We are doing whatever we can to get great people to join our team. We’re hoping that with our culture and with our standing that that will certainly help us in the next couple of weeks,” noted Cisneros. “What is challenging more so is just seeing the demand being there. It goes for all restaurants, with not everybody being able to maintain that or accommodate everybody. It’s always upsetting to see that.”
Joe Fortes is open from 3 to 10 p.m, Wednesday through Sunday, with plans to expand those hours in the future.
For more information, visit joefortes.ca.
This article has been updated since publication.