by Linda Garson Photography by Ingrid Kuenzel
Since finishing the hospitality course at SAIT in 1998, it’s been quite the journey for Stephen Deere, owner of Modern Steak. Born and raised in Calgary; his father is second generation Calgarian and his mother an immigrant from Spain. Starting at 14 years old as a dishwasher, Deere he worked his way up to chef/kitchen manager. “I love the kitchen,” he says. “And as you own your own restaurant, you’d better know what you’re doing in the kitchen because I guarantee you’ll have to run it at some point.”
Deere’s love of nightclubs and music launched him into tour management, and lifestyle branding for Bacardi and other companies. “The money was really good in the late ‘90s,” he says. “It was cool travelling around the world with those brands. Settling down, he bought in to Escoba but left after a few years for an opportunity in Jamaica. “$45 million sales, 2,000 employees, and a learning curve like no other,” he says. “I thought I’m the man, but when you do that in a third world country, you learn really fast that you’re not as good as you think. By the end I really got good, and I had a blast there.”
When he opened Modern Steak it was busy, but it was the wrong crowd. “They HATED us,” he laughs. “I was like, “Oh man, did I screw up. How can I be so wrong about Calgary?” But the crowd changed and the restaurant became busier and busier, winning “Steakhouse Of The Year” three years in a row now.
Deere is now opening a second location, and explains how lucky he feels. “We became the Calgary Flames unofficial restaurant, Earls did their thing, we bought the bull in 2016, and for six months in a row we’ve been 30% to 50% higher than last year, which has been able to launch us into our new location.” His idea for a bull came from his Spanish roots of knowing where your product comes from, and what you do with that product. “It goes back to my upbringing. It’s in my blood to do it this way. Alberta prime is only 1.3% of animals produced, and we have our own source.”
So what is the bottle that Deere has been saving for a special occasion?
Antinori Solaia 2002 is on the table. “2002 is the year I bought into Escoba,” he explains. “There was no way I could afford it then, but in 2005 Escoba was doing well, and I fell in love with Solaia and started collecting a vertical of it. That stopped when I moved to Jamaica as we had a party and drank them. I kept the 2002 as this vintage was a difficult vintage; it wasn’t hated by the critics, but it wasn’t loved. It spoke to the struggle, and it commemorated my first year of buying into the restaurant, and the struggles I went through.”
“I really want to open this bottle when we open the new restaurant. It’ll be for the key people that made it happen. I want to have a glass with them because it’s my last bottle of Solaia – I haven’t bought any more in centuries.”