Rufus Rockhead will close sometime in the next two weeks. The move comes in the wake of a cease and desist letter sent to owner Jeff Stinco in February, weeks after the supper club opened, by the daughter-in-law and grandsons of the late, legendary nightlife impresario whose Rockhead's Paradise was the first black-owned club in Montreal.
The reputation of the late Rufus Rockhead is of paramount importance to us. We are not prepared to condone, much less tolerate, the unauthorized use of his name, nor the possible damage to his reputation arising out of your activities.
Stinco, who is the guitarist for the rock band Simple Plan and a partner in restaurants like Le Shinji, Mangiafoco, Laurea, Lorbeer, Drinkerie and Mimi la Nuit, says that the decision to name his establishment Rufus Rockhead was a bid to "pay tribute to an iconic figure whose legacy was maybe not known quite enough."
Dean Rockhead, the grandson of the man whose club was a fixture for the likes of Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson, and who died in 1982 at the age of 93, describes the past several months as emotional.
"We were never consulted over this. We're not happy with the way my grandfather's name was appropriated. It's been very stressful. My mother is 80 and still very present in the community. People come up to her all the time to talk about this restaurant with her father-in-law's name. It's insulting and infuriating."
Rockhead's mother, Anne Rockhead, was in the hospital this past summer but is on the mend and active once more.
"Now that she's better she's ready to take this to court if necessary. [Stinco] could've done this with class and tact. But the letter he sent us [months after the cease and desist letter] was so arrogant. He has no idea what he's done. It's thoughtless."
Stinco, for his part, admits that "maybe it was a rookie mistake. I'll never use the name of a known person again, that's for sure."
The restaurateur frames the shutter less in terms of the controversy over the name and more as a result of the need to expand Le Shinji next door.
"We made Le Shinji too small. The reviews have been great, the response has been tremendous and we need to give [chef] Shinji Nagai a bigger platform. So we'll enlarge the restaurant into part of Rufus Rockhead."
Stinco expects the expansion to take about a month. The Japanese restaurant will stay open throughout the work, which will take place on off days.
When told of the plan to close Rufus Rockhead and terminate the use of his grandfather's name entirely, Dean Rockhead was nonplussed.
"If it were up to me we'd still pursue the matter. He's running with his tail between his legs."