LAGUNA BEACH — He likes his coffee black. His steak “medium rare plus.” And he’s an extremely generous pour, especially when it comes to a Moscow mule. His left knee is giving him all sorts of trouble these days, he’s admittedly almost always running behind schedule and his biggest pride and joy are his four children, who keep he and his wife Sirpa hopping with their numerous athletic pursuits.
He is Teemu Selanne, the beloved Winnipeg Jets legend who, you’ll be happy to know, is still living the good life just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean in this little piece of southern California paradise.
Despite being nearly eight years removed from the end of a Hall of Fame hockey career, the Finnish Flash remains a big deal around here. That was clear as we sat down earlier this week for an exclusive chat inside “Selanne’s Steak Tavern” — a high-end eatery he owns that sits along the stunning Pacific Coast Highway.
As the doors opened at 5 p.m on a warm Tuesday evening, plenty of star-struck diners were thrilled to see the main attraction sitting front and centre at one of the tables. The sociable Selanne, who at 51 seemingly hasn’t aged a day since the Jets selected him 10th overall in 1988, was clearly in his element as he worked the room with the same kind of ease he once controlled the offensive zone on the ice.
“Twenty-two years in the NHL, I always enjoyed going on the road to the best restaurants,” Selanne told me of when the light first went on to pursue his culinary passions.
“I always said it would be nice to have our own restaurant when I’m done. I’ve always loved this atmosphere, good food and things like that. One time, it was on Thanksgiving and we’d just finished playing golf: after the round we were having a beer in our club and I don’t know how we started talking about the restaurant, but I said I always wanted to have a steakhouse. My buddy, Kevin, said me too.”
That initial conversation happened in 2005, when Selanne was back in the area for a second stint with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. But it wouldn’t be until 2013, when he began his final season in the NHL, for the dream to become a reality.
“It’s always fun when he’s in here. People just love him,” said Kevin Pratt, that golfing buddy of Selanne’s who eventually became his business partner. The pair first met in 2000 as neighbours in Coto de Caza, the nearby private community they both call home, and agreed to wait patiently until the right location became available.
“We think we’ve created something pretty special here. Teemu is just a fabulous individual, period,” said Pratt, who makes a sweeping motion at the busy scene in front of us. “Teemu, this is what he does. He’s a hell of a guy.”
The tavern is truly a family affair. Selanne and Pratt’s wives were integral in giving the property — an historic cottage built in 1932 — a major facelift before opening the doors for customers.
“Everything was super dark,” said Selanne. “Very kind of like a French style. We opened up everything. You can see that there’s a lot of feminine touch. We didn’t want a heavy, old-school steakhouse. This is like a more modern, European style steakhouse. It really suits this area, and this house.”
Both his wife and their oldest son, Eemil, now work at the restaurant.
“He’s just the nicest guy. The nicest guy,” Marguarite Clark, who handles public relations for the company, said of Selanne.
“My stepdad celebrated his 100th birthday here for brunch a couple years back and Teemu made sure to come in to say congratulations. That tells you what kind of guy he is.”
Selanne also lends the occasional hand in the kitchen and behind the bar, but admittedly he’s being pulled in all sorts of directions these days. His other two boys — Eetu, 23, and Leevi, 21 — are both playing Division 3 hockey at Curry College just outside Boston. And 13-year-old daughter, Veera, is a rising young tennis protege in the community.
“Most of my time goes to her. I coach her pretty much every day,” he said.
Selanne, who can swing a mean racquet himself, held serve for more than an hour on pretty much every topic under the sun. Here are the highlights of our wide-ranging hot stove session over scrumptious scallops, skirt steak and wild mushrooms:
ON THE PATRIK LAINE TRADE SHOCKER:
Selanne always kept an eye on how the Jets were doing, but admits his interest really picked up when they drafted Laine second-overall in 2016. The games became must-see TV. But the blockbuster trade last January, which shipped Laine to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois, was a tough pill to swallow.
“I was watching all the games, because I wanted to know how Patty was doing, how was his process. His skating, what kind of things were happening there. Great Finnish player comes to the same team I used to play for. It was like a double interest for me. But then, when he left, my interest in them went a little bit down. Just back to what it was before, following them, but not that close.”
ON THE JETS HONOURING THE PAST, INCLUDING BUILDING A STATUE OF DALE HAWERCHUK:
To be clear, Selanne isn’t down on the organization. He recognizes sports is a business, better than anyone. After all, he was traded by the Jets in 1996, during his fourth season. But his heart very much remains in Winnipeg and it’s been warmed by some recent moves to recognize the 1.0 era in a bigger way,
“That’s awesome. Winnipeg and Mark (Chipman), they’re first-class people. I’m so happy to follow their action and see how much they care about community and what they are doing for the people…
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