I don't think a month goes by that I don't remind someone that the first Earls opened in Edmonton. Every time someone talks about a new Earls, JOEY or even Cactus Club (of which Bus owned a big chunk) opening to great acclaim in Burnaby, Toronto or LA, I make sure they know that the chain that changed how the entire country goes out for dinner comes from my hometown.
It wasn't just that Earls was cool—it was—it's that it was cool in a holistic way. It wasn't some concept imported from the US and foisted upon us, it was a place that was fundamentally Western Canadian. Its signature food item was The Old Timer, a burger with bacon and real cheddar cheese (a serious rarity in the early ’80s). Its signature drink was a beer or a Caesar, ordered Earls size, which meant you got more of it. Western Canada's wine knowledge was elevated by Bus bringing in wines like Frescobaldi and pairing it with casual fare for ordinary people. And when the original concept—called "Green" Earls—showed signs of flagging, up sprung Earls Tin Palace, which was the true prototype of today's chain, higher-end food and wine and drinks and a magnet for the beautiful people anxious to expand the culinary knowledge.
In 2015 our sister publication, Vancouver magazine, chose Bus for their Power 50 list and summed up just some of his achievements as such:
In the beginning, Bus created Earls. That’s Leroy Earl “Bus” Fuller, an 86-year-old dynamo who got out of the oil business and into restaurants via a little spot in Sunburst, Montana, called The Green & White. He moved on to A&W franchises then opened the first Earls (in Edmonton) in 1982 and the second (on Marine Drive in North Vancouver) in 1983. Bus also created four sons. Two of them—Stan, and Jeff—now head Earls and JOEY, respectively. Those chains, along with Cactus Club and Browns Social House—which are both presided over by Earls alumni—are rapidly replicating their respective “premium casual” concepts throughout North America. Cactus Club just opened a spectacular complex at First Canadian Place, their first outpost in Toronto. Earls and JOEY already have multiple rooms there, in many other Canadian cities, and, increasingly, in U.S. markets as well. Earls is killing it in Miami, Boston, Chicago, and Washington; JOEY has four rooms in Seattle and just opened their first Los Angeles location (they also have the fast-growing Local Public Eatery brand). The Fuller chains are aggressive, well managed, and intensely competitive. They are privately held, but industry analysts suggest that their combined annual sales will soon approach a billion dollars.
All that's true of course, and the success matrix has only increased since then. But I'll add on little footnote: he also made eating out in Edmonton, and later Western Canada, feel like you were at the epicentre of something great and unique. And you were.
So tonight be a good night to raise a glass to our greatest hospitality pioneer—just make sure you Earls size it.