10 Questions: In Discussion With Paul Cowlishaw, Restaurant Manager, Don Alfonso 1890

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What makes Don Alfonso different? There’s no divide and there’s a keen sense of awareness of what we need to achieve that everyone steps in to support. There’s a real family dynamic, synonymous with Italian hospitality. We like to give tours to our guests and every single member of our team engages with guests. There’s such passion for food and hospitality that everyone is eager to make every guest enjoy themselves and every service successful.

What’s your biggest challenge as restaurant manager? Managing guest expectations successfully and always. No two guests are alike and you want to tailor their experiences to suit those expectations, create an experience that’s unique to them while still maintaining the vision of the restaurant.

How do you assemble a great team? It’s important to nurture every member of your team [regardless of] their experience. It’s about hiring the right personality and attitude —someone who is passionate, eager to learn, with shared beliefs and values — and training them to be successful.

What does culture mean to you? It’s the belief in hospitality and the values of the restaurant above anything else. With a strong culture and the support of your colleagues, you can do great things.

How do you instill the company’s culture in this restaurant? A comfortable workplace where there’s open communication has always been important to me, as are trust and support. As a team, we share our successes and failures. A manager works for their team as hard as the team works for the restaurant and the goal is to set your colleagues and restaurant up for success. Training programs empower staff, give them the tools and development to be better at their jobs.

What is necessary to successfully recruit and retain your employees? Keep your staff engaged and passionate about what they’re doing through training and knowledge. Hire for attitude, but train them for future roles — expand on their potential by giving them the tools they need to continue to grow in this field, help them set career goals and work with them to achieve them.

How do you stay relevant? [Provide] consistency in your offering and service style. Guests need to know they can always depend on you. Don Alfonso 1890 has won accolades as one of the best new restaurants in the world. What makes this restaurant so good at what it does? There’s so much talent on our team. Our chefs and kitchen [staff] are incredible and while the culinary program, [led] by a Michelin-starred chef from a legendary family-run restaurant on the Amalfi Coast, is spectacular, the wine and cocktail programs are also impressive. We have five sommeliers and top mixologists on the team — the best in the city, in my opinion.

What trends are shaping the industry today? Restaurants [are increasingly] implementing processes, practices and products that are helping save the environment and reduce waste or greenhouse gasses to name a few. Whether it’s practicing sustainability, removing plastic straws and the use of bottled water, offering plant-based burgers, opening plant-based restaurants or offering vegan-forward menus, ethical practices have become common not only in independent restaurants but also in chain restaurants.

Where is your impact most felt in the restaurant? I’m a problem solver and, after years of experience, I keep calm no matter how busy or stressful a situation. That helps set the tone for the team. Even though I’m a manager, I also work to support them and they do the same in return — for the restaurant and for each other.

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Rosanna Caira
Rosanna Caira is the editor and publisher of Kostuch Media’s Foodservice and Hospitality, and Hotelier magazines. In her capacity as editor of Canada’s two leading hospitality publications, Rosanna directs the editorial and graphic content of both publications, and is responsible for the editorial vision of the magazines, its five websites as well as the varied tertiary products including e-newsletters, supplements and special projects. In addition to her editorial duties, Rosanna also serves as publisher of the company, directing the strategic development of the Sales and Marketing, Production and Circulation departments. Rosanna is the face of the magazines, representing the publications at industry functions and speaking engagements. She serves on various committees and Boards, including the Board of Directors of the Canadian Hospitality Foundation. She is a recipient of the Ontario Hostelry’s Gold Award in the media category. In 2006, Rosanna was voted one of the 32 most successful women of Italian heritage in Canada. Rosanna is a graduate of Toronto’s York University, where she obtained a BA degree in English literature.

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