Four Seasons Hotel closure brings 43-year tradition of billionaire power lunches to an end

While sitting at his table at Yew Restaurant inside the Four Seasons Hotel, Joe Segal jokes he could hold a mortgage on the hotel with how much money he's spent there.

"Weddings, anniversaries, I had my ninetieth birthday here," says the billionaire philanthropist.

His joke isn't far from the truth; Segal's relationship with the hotel runs deep. Now 95, he's been having lunch there for 43 years — five days a week.

He likens it to his marriage of 71 years to his wife, Rosalie. There were growing pains — the restaurant has had many new servers, chefs, managers — but they've always worked through it.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"You either learn to adjust or you fall apart because you don't get along," he says. "This place has been everything I've needed."

Shutting its doors

It's a chapter that's coming to a close; the Four Seasons Hotel is shutting its doors Monday after more than 40 years in business.

The hotel's landlord, Cadillac Fairview, didn't renew its lease for the property. Instead, the company announced Friday it's in negotiations with several other high-end hotel brands as potential replacements.

In 2017, Cadillac Fairview sued the hotel, alleging it looked "tired" and outdated. The Four Seasons denied the allegations.

Segal acknowledges the hotel might have become a "little dowdy," but he has nothing but the highest praise for its staff.

"This place is really what I would term, as close to perfection as you can get, and besides that, they give me anything I want," he said with a laugh.

Joe's table

Segal started hosting daily business lunches at the Four Seasons because it was next door to his office but he says it was the exemplary service that won him over.

He once remarked that his regular table, a four-top, was too small and his papers were falling off.

"The next day, I had a bigger table," he said.

The replacement table looked exactly like the old one but was six inches wider, designed just for him.

Submitted by Joe Segal
Submitted by Joe Segal

Segal signed some of the biggest deals of his career during lunch at the Four Seasons, like his 1988 acquisition of Block Brothers Realty, which turned the war veteran into a real estate magnate.

"I made that deal right here, over this table, $150 million."

Life lessons over lunch

Despite the big dollars being tossed around over prawns and spinach, Segal's friends say advice from the astute businessman has been the biggest draw.

Lessons like the need for honesty.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"Never tell a lie, period," publisher Peter Legge said of his greatest learning from Segal. "You can make mistakes but always be honest in your dealings with people."

Wayne Gretzky, Diana Krall, Bob Rennie

Segal isn't the only high profile guest that's hob-knobbed at the Four Seasons.

Staff say regulars included former attorney general Wally Oppal and jazz pianist Diana Krall.

During his five-year tenure, former executive chef Ned Bell remembers cooking for Jean Chrétien, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Bublé, who was a big fan of B.C. dungeness crab.

"You know I used to look out and say like, holy smokes guys, we're cooking for the elite but also the people that run the city," Bell said.

He put a grilled cheese sandwich on the menu named after condominium king Bob Rennie, who custom-ordered it regularly for two years.

New lunch spot

Bell goes down as Segal's favourite chef.

Both men say they will miss the hotel but the ever-optmistic Segal is ready to move on.

Peter Legge
Peter Legge

The hotel offered to let him take his table and chairs home but he turned them down.

"Why didn't I take them?" he said. "I didn't because once this is gone it's gone. And you you don't live in the past. You live in the present and you look to the future."

Segal promises his teachings are going to continue. The nonagenarian already has new lunch spots lined up.

"Gotham's could be one [option], Hy's could be two, Hawksworth's could be three, the food court could be four," he said. "I won't go hungry."

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