The original plan called for a cappuccino bar, but Kees Mijinke instead opened a French bistro-style casual fine dining restaurant.
And the Old Yale Bistro, located in downtown Langley City, celebrated its 20th anniversary on Monday (July 15).
What makes the place unique is it is essentially a one-person show as Mijinke does it all: the prep work, cooking, serving, bartending, bussing the table afterwards and then washing the dishes.
Working with food and people is what he had done all his life.
Originally from Holland, Mijinke learned his trade in Belgium, where he went to school for four years. He spent a couple of years after that working on cruise shops and then moved to Canada in 1971, settling first in Montreal, and then a few years later in Vancouver.
In the mid-70s, Mijinke ended up in Langley, working at the original Old Yale Bistro (which is now Choo Choo’s) as the head waiter.
The restaurant eventually moved to what is now Sonoma Grill, and a short time later, Mijinke also made a move, working as a general manager at Boston Pizza.
When his former boss at the Old Yale Bistro opened a new restaurant in Abbotsford, Joseph’s Country Inn, Mijinke went back to work there before deciding to venture out into opening his new restaurant.
It is open Tuesdays to Saturdays for lunch, closes for a few hours and then re-opens for dinner.
And while Mijinke does most of the work himself, he has been helped by his family along the way.
“Three of my kids basically worked for me on a steady basis and one of them, once in a blue moon,” he said of his four now-grown children.
“I never forced my kids to work for me, and I paid them just like anyone else, they were employees.
“The nice thing was they were teenagers, so this way I knew where they were.”
His wife, Inge, did work with him for a short time, but “she was not a restaurant person” Mijinke said with a laugh.
She works as a registered nurse at Langley Memorial Hospital.
He will still call on his kids or their spouses for some occasional help such as when there is a large reservation booked — the restaurant can accommodate parties of 40 — or he has high school students he can call on to come in and give him a hand.
And at 65, Mijinke isn’t yet thinking about retirement, especially with seven grandkids — ages 11, 9, 4, 2 and a trio of one-year-olds — who could one day learn the trade from their granddad.
“You never know, but I don’t see myself retiring and sitting at home and twiddling my thumbs and doing garden work or whatever,” he said.
“That is not my thing.”
Mijinke is planning some sort of celebration to mark 20 years, but will hold it in the fall when more of his regular cliental are back in town.
The restaurant is located at 20408 Fraser Hwy. and the website is www.oldyalebistro.com.