It was with an immense sense of sadness that we heard of the passing of our much-loved colleague and friend Kevin Gallagher earlier this week. Over the intervening days, processing this enormous loss to both the hospitality industry and the world at large has been challenging.
I have been reminded of our first meeting at one of the earlier editions of the Terroir symposium at Hart House in Toronto. Kevin and I had been put on the same “team” (read: table of eight) in a Wine List Workshop, and for some reason I was allocated the role of Team Captain. Now, I’ve never thought that wine list design by committee could ever produce anything approaching good, and over the course of the next 45 minutes things rapidly went from the sublime (an all Ontario list) to the ridiculous (the most haphazard list one could ever imagine with battles raging amidst team members). Throughout this timeframe the gamut of emotions (mostly silently) expressed by Kevin were simply astounding; from enthusiastic delight, through thoughtful/pensive agreement/disagreement, to abject horror as our collaborative effort careered wildly off the rails; this first time in his company has never left my mind. The sheer range of emotions that Kevin could convey with a charmingly wry motion of one or both eyebrows were truly a thing to behold.
Over the years I have known Kevin, many’s the time he wordlessly implied that I should most probably rein it in, when one of my stories/jokes or intake of rosé was perhaps going a little too far. Such was the great respect and admiration I had for this truly outstanding gentleman, one can be sure that I always took his sage advisement to heart.
I’ve also been looking back at the Old Hands interview I conducted with him way back in October of 2014. Throughout the lengthy piece, Kevin’s deep love of the industry, his staff, his wife Donna and his family really came to the fore.
In these difficult times our thoughts are with Kevin’s family, friends, and the innumerable people he touched with his charm, wit, grace, and immense kindness.
Below are some heartfelt thoughts from just a handful of the latter.
“Kevin Gallagher was the quiet partner to Donna Dooher, but when he spoke people took notice and listened carefully. The Toronto hospitality community has lost an important innovator and a thoroughly decent man.”
Malcolm Jolley, Co-founder Good Food Revolution
“I worked alongside Kevin as a manager at Mildred Pierce in the later years at 99 Sudbury Street. Kevin and I shared a tiny closet/office at the back of the kitchen – through the chaos of a Sunday brunch service Kevin always managed to keep a sea of calm in that tiny room. Well, that is until an unwarranted complaint landed in his inbox. We all know that Kevin is a master wordsmith, the carefully worded responses written were legendary – literary gold! Never sent. When Kevin launched his Kitchen Diaries on Mildred’s website I savoured every posting, shed many tears of the stories and life he and Donna have built and the community created. You are well loved and will be dearly missed.”
Kelli Brown, colleague and friend (Mildred Pierce 2004 – 2007)
“Kevin was widely known as the nicest man in the hospitality industry. He was, in fact, so very nice that he never spoke ill of the dreaded Joanne Kates (aka The Great Satan). And, were he of such a mind, he had reason to do so…
Kevin and I met in 2002 in the Green Room at the newly-opened CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto. We had, separately, been invited to speak about the role of restaurant critics with Andy Barrie of Metro Morning. Throughout our discussion, we both took care to speak of the writers without criticism or rancour and mentioned no names. We left the building feeling positive and rather pleased with ourselves for the restraint shown, even as we agreed that the food critics were a dicey lot at best. We said goodbye as new-found friends.
The very next morning, Mr. Barrie invited reaction from those self-same writers, featuring above all others The Great Satan herself. She dismissed the pair of us as tasteless, brainless nincompoops, whose ventures were failures and whose presence on the restaurant scene would be short-lived.
Kevin and I spoke by phone that same day; his reaction to the perfidy of Metro Morning and to the personal insults tossed our way by the afore-mentioned lady was a wry laugh, a forgiving tone and a calm demeanour. My response, I assure you, was less measured and may even have contained some profanity.
Over the happy years we knew each other, he mentioned the episode only in reference to our meeting. He was, indeed, the kindest and most generous of gentlemen.”
John W. Maxwell, former publican of Allen’s/Dora Keogh, and friend of Kevin
“I always triple-check my spelling, punctuation and grammar before I hit “send” to Mr Kevin Gallagher. He had a way of making people want to put their best foot forward.
Kevin was an exceptionally smart, well-read man who could expertly slip a Yeats’ quote into any conversation. And the weird thing is that 99% of the time it made sense.
He was an equally kind and gentle soul who could connect with everyone. Beloved describes Kevin Gallagher. He was a grand master of hospitality with a wonderful sense of humour – which was occasionally used those who did not quite deserve his kindness. His patience was something to behold.
Most of all, Kevin was a loving and extremely proud husband, father and grandfather. His family was his gold.
“I heard the old, old man say ‘all that’s beautiful drifts away, like the water.'”
Kev, I know 1 single + 1 double closing quotation mark. But space or no space?”
Jeff Dinan, friend and work colleague
“Kevin Gallagher will be missed, but his vision of hospitality reverberates in Toronto restaurant culture. The Mildred restaurants take local, seasonal ingredients, enhance them with multicultural flavours and present them with warmth, humour and a sense of theatre. This model will continue to delight diners across the city for decades to come. Condolences to his life partner and co-creator Donna Dooher, and the many professionals he mentored.”
Paul DeCampo, Taste Educator & Technician
“Kevin was certainly a person who if we happened upon each other I was always glad to be in his presence. He had a unique way of empathizing with the various struggles that we all face in our industry and life in general while simultaneously reminding me what a beautiful fun world it is and how lucky we are to share it with our peers. It seemed to me he really loved all the unique characters that inhabited the food and wine scene that we both inhabited.”
Jonathon Kuhling, a perennial Man In Pink
“I have known Kevin and Donna for most of my life. I have had the pleasure of working for and with Kevin and Donna on several occasions in several establishments over the decades. Donna’s fiery redheaded beauty, energy and humour along with Kevin’s Gregory Peck good looks, grace and slow dry wit ever constant… such a pair and always making for an event to remember.
It was Kevin’s brain that always impressed… he knew something about everything… and he was humble about his genius. He was a mix of elegance and an everyday everyman kind of guy… he could well up thinking of a memorable opera and as quickly holler out a line from his favourite Rolling Stones song…
One of my fondest memories of Kevin as our everyday everyman was an evening in Ottawa. His sister -in -law -MJ and I lived in an old house in Ottawa. We had heard the sounds of a troubled bird or some such on our 2nd floor. Too afraid to deal with on our own- M.J called for Kevin to dash over to snare the creature.
With bat in hand our hero ascended the stairs as MJ & I clung to each other.
The noise ended and Kevin slowly descended the stairs and very dryly suggested we replace the batteries in the smoke alarm.
He was that man -who both saved us and sent us into fits of laughter.
He was kind and he loved his family deeply.
If I need to hear his voice I will turn to the Diary of a Restaurant in the Mildred Pierce Chronicles and re-read his quietly brilliant observations of his quietly brilliant life. I will miss him forever.”
Kevin Gallagher Fan Club Ottawa & Toronto Division
“I get to remember Kevin as one of my favourite people to pour wine for. Any night he decided to sit at the bar for a while I would be a magnet, just waiting for stories, trading the latest thing I had learned about wine for notes on the history of my city and industry. Cheers to you Kevin.
He gave me a bottle of 09 St Emillion when I left the restaurant. It’s about time to open it.”
John Praskey, Dionysus Wines (2013/14 Mildred’s Temple Kitchen)
“I first meet Kevin at the University of Guelph in the winter of 2004. He was invited to speak to the BCOMM Hospitality students as part of the schools Executive in Residence program.
I later learned this was one of the many many honours and responsibilities he endured as an industry leader.
Over the next years, Kevin’s mentorship morphed into friendship. I consider myself to be very fortunate to have been in close contact with this true gentleman over the last 2 decades. Kevin had a great sense of humour. He would always refer to himself as the oldest bus boy in city, but he was truly one of the most experienced and consistent restauranteurs in the country…. with his amazing partner in crime, Donna.“
Nicholas Pearce, Nicholas Pearce Wines (Cookworks / Mildred 2004 – MP closing Summer 2007)
“Kevin was a true gentleman – grace, style and charm. The world could do with a few million Kevin Gallaghers.”
Billy Munnelly, BillysBestBottles.com and a friend of Kevin
“Kevin was the consummate gentleman restaurateur. Always considerate, always smiling, and always calm. He also had a wicked sense of humour that could put everyone at ease. No pretensions. We will miss him and our arms are wrapped around Donna with love.”
Charles Baker, Stratus Wines/Cru Agency, and another perennial Man In Pink