By Dena-Kae Beno
The years between 1898 to 1908, John’s maternal and paternal grandparents immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia and settled in the Strathcona area, or what was known as the Little Italy of Vancouver. John’s relatives, the Beneditti family, opened and operated Benny’s, a Strathcona landmark and Vancouver Heritage Foundation award recipient for 100 years of service to the community. Benny’s opened as an ice cream parlour and over the years has expanded to be a retail and wholesale operation at 598 Union Street, Vancouver, BC. John started his life living in Strathcona with his grandparents. They attended Sacred Heart Church. He and his family moved to Northern Vancouver Island, when he was a young boy and they settled in Camp Eight, northeast of Campbell River. His father worked in the logging industry. During those years, John remembers attending elementary school with his brother Ronnie in a one room school house with a potbelly stove to keep the students warm. John also recalls the culture shock he experienced when he and his family moved back to Vancouver. John enrolled in Templeton Secondary School, Vancouver Technical Secondary and completed his education at King Edward Adult Education; which was the first junior college in British Columbia. As he transitioned from school to the workplace, John was offered a job with Canadian Forest Products in Chetwynd, BC in a sawmill as a trainee supervisor. Prior to accepting the position, John was warned that he would choke on the dust in the summer or drown in the snow in the winter. During this time, Fred Belaquava offered John’s mother the opportunity to take over and operate a restaurant in his building on Main Street. The restaurant previously had been owned by his uncle who’s father founded the restaurant in 1918. As an alternative to John moving to Chetwynd, his mother asked him to stay in Vancouver to operate Puccini’s, an Italian trattoria. Sadly, just six months after opening the restaurant’s doors, John’s mother passed away from cancer. John and Ron, his brother, both saddened by the loss of their mother, but determined to carry on, continued successful operations of the restaurant. Puccini’s soon became a favourite Vancouver destination. As you entered the wrought iron gate and opened the door, you would walk into the vibrant and colourful restaurant and be met with the aroma of traditional, homestyle Italian food in authentic trattoria fashion, including favourites; such as, lasagna, pastas and Italian pan-fried steak with parsley and garlic.
John remembers when they first opened it was without a liquor licenses were so the sale of alcohol was prohibited, instead people would bring their own wine. Due to changing City requirements and the Teti brothers’ success, the City of Vancouver required them to obtain a liquor license.
When asking John about what was key in making Puccini’s so successful, he stated, “What we lacked in knowledge, we made up in hospitality. We treated everyone who came in like they were a guest in our home”. Also, they employed mostly local Italian women in the restaurant and it became like one big, happy family. I asked John if someone came up to you and asked you, who John Teti is, what would you say. He replied, “I am a complicated person”
But, as he and I unraveled what this meant during our interview, I started to recognize that a part of how he sees himself, may be the very part of what has compelled him to take bold risks, execute his vision, remain successful in his career, and most importantly, grounded and proud of his family and Italian cultural values.
From 1982 to 2002, John owned and operated Richards on Richards, a successful nightclub, with business partners, Roger Gibson and Bruce Allen. From this experience, John and Roger Gibson also opened other businesses, including the Sharks Clubs, which has expanded across Western Canada from British Columbia to Saskatchewan. John reflected that some days that he still can’t believe that he started as the boy in a one room school house in Northern Vancouver Island, to having owned night clubs in a series of successful sports bars.
John and his business partner Roger Gibson currently own West Coast Liquor Company consisting of four store locations and a fifth in development. He states, “We jokingly say it is a lot easier to sell liquor by the bottle than the ounce”.
John recognizes the importance and value of contributing to community, through his active participation in the Confratalanza Society and as one of the founders and past Chair of Bar Watch in the city of Vancouver. Through his efforts, he has supported fellow local business owners to thrive, fostered a strong sense of Italian heritage in the community, and contributed to making Vancouver a safer place.
When asking John what he feels is at the core of his motivation to succeed, he said, “One thing is that I played football, lacrosse, and rugby in school. Sports shaped me, kept me busy and out of trouble. It taught me teamwork and respect. I have always believed the way you treat people is the way they treat you. I don’t know if this way of thinking has made me successful, but it has definitely made me happy. My life has been blessed. I don’t think I have ever woke up and said I don’t want to go to work. I love what I do. I have never regretted the life I have chosen. I will never retire”.
I asked John what he does for life-work balance, he said, “I am an avid golfer, I love to ski at Sun Peaks and to travel” with my wife Lori. John relays that he loves great food, great wine, and great company. John also enjoys spending time with his daughter, Sienna who he and his wife Lori are very proud of. She is strong, athletic and bright. She is completing her final year at Western University in London, Ontario.
I asked John if he feels that the Italian community supports one another as we should in business and life. John states, “I’m not totally sure if some Italians are happy to see other Italians succeed. I don’t really see the Italian community supporting each other as much as we are capable of doing so. I think we should foster a sense of supporting one another in the Italian community by shopping, eating and contributing to Italian-Canadian business. By doing so, we are supporting our Italian culture to be sustainable and for our Italian community to thrive. It is an important culture and a great part of the Canadian culture. Many Italian immigrant families, moved to Vancouver, with limited education, built and shaped Vancouver and great portions of North America. It is their work ethic that has helped this to be possible. In closing, I asked John what the next chapter of life has in store for him, and he ended our conversation by saying, “I have come to recognize that we are all in the departure lounge, so that is why it is so important to enjoy and be happy. And, always remember to treat people well and love your family”.
Both sets of John’s parents are originally from Italy: his paternal grandparents are from: Chieti Abruzzo and his maternal grandparents are from: Treviso Veneto.