British Columbia

'A giant in our industry': Leroy Fuller, founder of Earls restaurant, dies at 90

Leroy Fuller, who founded Earls in the 1980s and was the patriarch of a family that runs some of Vancouver's most successful restaurant chains, has died at the age of 90.

Fuller's family also owns the restaurant chains Joey and Cactus Club Cafe

Customers eat at Earls in Vancouver on Friday, July 12, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Leroy Fuller, who founded Earls in the 1980s and was the patriarch of a family that runs some of Vancouver's most successful restaurant chains, has died at the age of 90.

Fuller passed away peacefully at his home on the weekend, surrounded by family members, his family said Monday in a statement.

"Those fortunate enough to work alongside and know Bus have lost an inspiring mentor, a charismatic leader and a true friend," the statement read.

"Bus leaves behind a legacy that exists because of his dedication, hard work and ability to surround himself with great people. He has touched the hearts of many and will be forever loved and missed."

Fuller, who was known by his childhood nickname Bus, served in the Korean War and later operated A&W franchises in Edmonton between the '50 and '70s.

In 1982, Fuller founded Earls in Edmonton with his son Stanley. They opened the first B.C. location in 1984 in North Vancouver and set up the corporate head office down the street.

Fuller's family says he was a longtime resident of West Vancouver and well-known in the community. (Submitted by the Fuller family)

The successful chain, which offered diners an upscale experience at an affordable price, catapulted the Fuller family's restaurant empire.

Fuller's son, Jeff, opened Joey in 1992 and is now its CEO. The Fullers also helped two former Earls servers open the first Cactus Club Cafe in 1988 and now have majority ownership of the company.

"He was truly a giant in our industry," said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association.

"He set trends. He wasn't conventional. And I really feel that the industry the way we know it today, we wouldn't know it had it not been for Bus Fuller." 

Fuller flew his chefs around the world to experience new cuisines, which they brought back to Earls, Tostenson said.

And he established new service standards for diners, such as serving draft beer and house wines, which other chains later emulated.

Bus Fuller's son, Jeff, is Joey's CEO. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

At the time of his death, Fuller served as chairman of Earls and was still involved in key decision-making, according to the restaurant's website.

His family was recently embroiled in a legal battle with Cactus Club president Richard Jaffray.

Tostenson said Fuller's death will cast a shadow over the annual B.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame gala being held Monday evening. 

Fuller and his family were inducted into the hall of fame in 2007.

"It's a sad day in B.C.," Tostenson said. "We tip our hat to what he's brought to the industry."

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