“You can’t say because I’m doing it, it must be the best,” says George Schwartz, co-owner of the Post Hotel in Lake Louise. “It’s knowing what’s good, what people enjoy and what good service is. When you can provide all these, you would really have to do things the wrong way to fail.”
Growing up in Switzerland, Schwartz came to Canada in 1973 to visit his brother, a ski instructor in Lake Louise. He enjoyed it so much that he stayed, and although he had planned to continue his studies and become a chemical engineer, he took a job at Felice restaurant in Banff as a busboy, quickly learning the restaurant business.
Soon after, the restaurant went up for sale and Schwartz borrowed the down payment from his father and the remainder from the bank. He was 23 years old, had two months experience and hardly spoke English – but he was already a success. He changed the concept to Ticino Swiss Italian restaurant the following year, and when the old Post Hotel in Lake Louise came up for sale in 1978, Schwartz and his brother made an offer to the owner, Sir Norman Watson.
In 1980, Schwartz opened the Beaujolais in Banff with his friend Albert Moser; Alberta was soon to be in recession and there was an opportunity to lease a spot on Banff Avenue. Why not open a low-budget restaurant. Georgios hit the spot price and quality-wise, and was an instant success.
“It was tremendous,” Schwartz says. “We were doing more than 1,000 meals a day, some white tablecloth and some bistro style. It was a good run, but hard work and long hours. It was another time – I didn’t have time to get married. It was full on, and it was fun.”
At home, the Schwartz family always had wine with meals.
“They probably gave it to us to make sure we fell asleep,” he laughs.
He adds that the understanding and love of good food and wine came from his father.
“That helped me a lot,” Schwartz says. “Objectivity is the key, so I think by being taken to fancy (and not-so-fancy) places as a kid and remembering those tastes and experiences, I was able to find my way.”
So what bottle does Schwartz have tucked away, waiting to be opened?
“We have a bottle that we received from a wonderful winemaker in Napa Valley,” Schwartz says. “His name was Jim Barrett, and he was the gentleman that started Chateau Montelena with his son Bo; there is a movie that tells their story (Bottleshock). Jim used to come to the Post and we had some great times together.”
Barrett had promised to send Schwartz a special bottle, but first asked for a photograph of the hotel.
“He had the bottle etched with the picture of the hotel across the river in the snow, and it’s a five litre bottle of 1997 Chateau Montelana cabernet sauvignon,” Schwartz explains. “It’s sitting in the cellar waiting for a special day, and I haven’t decided what that day will be because it hasn’t been special enough yet.”
So what day might be special enough? Maybe when he retires?
“I can’t tell,” Schwartz smiles. “I hope not to retire fully, I’d like to be able to take it easier, but I’m in no hurry to retire. Meanwhile, it sits in the cellar.”