Celebrating Ontario Hostelry Institute Top 30 Under 30


Smart, entrepreneurial and hungry to succeed, the 2014 Top 30 Under 30 winners, chosen by the Ontario Hostelry Institute, were recognized at a recent cocktail reception. They’re proving their generation packs a punch in today’s diverse business environment. From small-batch distilling to hotel rebranding, to urban farming, the following eight standout leaders on the list are paving the road for millennials in foodservice and hospitality.

Seeds of Change

Gustavo Macias Co-Founder & Urban farmer, Skyline Farms

It’s rare for a winning business idea to stem from a school project, but the first commercial tower garden in Canada was conceived by Gustavo Macias (and Jake Harding) while working on a project for a Sustainable Energy & Building Technology course at Humber College. The idea was to create an urban farm using aeroponic technology, where crops are grown vertically, using 10 per cent of the space and water required in traditional farming. After nabbing multiple grants, the students’ school project has morphed into a soilless operation atop the Thistletown Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke, Ont. Named Skyline Farms, the operation grows organic, GMO-free produce such as lettuce, chard, kale, zucchini, baby bok choy, cucumbers, tomatoes and a variety of herbs in less than 200 sq. ft. The program also educates students about how to harvest and prepare the produce, which is served in the Thistletown Collegiate cafeteria. “Gustavo is at the forefront of changing the way we think about local food and keeping integrity in an ever-changing and arguably crumbling food system here in North America. He is taking the opportunity to change the way our youth look at food first-hand, teaching them pure ingredients are essential to our well-being,” says Alexandra Feswick, chef de cuisine at The Drake Hotel in Toronto, who helped the duo raise funds for their project in its infancy. The Skyline Farms’ concept is expected to eventually expand to additional secondary schools in Toronto.

Welcome Wagon

Dustin Churchill Training & Communications Manager, The Fairmont Royal York

Walk into The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, and you’ll notice a spectrum of ethnicities and age groups represented by its workers. One common denominator is Dustin Churchill, who ensures each worker has the resources to master the hotel’s service standards, and that means catering to a range of learning styles. The training and communications manager is responsible for more than 1,200 employees and has designed orientation programs for GMs, department managers as well as both union and non-union employees. He has created in-house videos that model expected behaviours in the workplace as well as specific department programs that show how to provide effective feedback and resolve conflict. “He is always looking for new and interesting ways to help colleagues and leaders understand the importance of how they contribute to guest satisfaction and their own engagement at work,” says Suzanne Streule, director of Talent & Learning, Americas for Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, owner of the Royal York. And, the rising star, who started as a human resource intern in 2010, takes his job outside the training department, too, planning town hall meetings, annual holiday parties and raising more than $140,000 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

Grape Expectations

Andrea Fujarczuk Wine lecturer, Royal Agricultural University

Andrea Fujarczuk has dedicated her life to wine education, in fact she’s penning her MBA dissertation on Niagara Falls, Ont.’s Riesling grape variety and its potential to become a prime export. Fujarczuk herself has been a student of wine since 2010, when she began studying at Niagara College in the Winery and Viticulture Technician program and got hands-on experience conducting wine tastings (and even driving a forklift) at Featherstone Estate Winery. “Andrea always showed initiative in extracurricular events and networking opportunities, whether it entailed hauling cases of wine or washing glasses; she recognized early on the value of building her reputation in the wine industry, and her positive attitude and strong interpersonal skills made her invaluable in many situations,” says Jennifer Wilhelm, instructor and coordinator, Wine Programs, Canadian Food and Wine Institute, Niagara College. When she wasn’t finishing her Wine & Spirits Education Trust Level Four Diploma, Fujarczuk was penning reviews on international wine varieties for Vines magazine and judging the InterVin International Wine Awards. A certified Master Taster and winemaker, she recently took her knowledge across the pond to the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, England, where she now teaches about wine production, consumption patterns and the supply chain.

Local Champion

Andrew Evans Partner & Executive Chef, Cookery Catering

Andrew Evans discovered his culinary calling as a child, helping prepare dinner in his grandparents’ kitchen. Later, he snagged a job washing dishes and peeling carrots and potatoes at a local restaurant; it was then he realized he never wanted to leave the kitchen. After graduating from Niagara College with a diploma in Culinary Management, and becoming certified as a Red Seal chef, he worked his way up from cook apprentice at the Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ont., to staging in Hong Kong at Café des Artistes and Lux, before returning to Magna, where he rose to sous chef. In 2012, Evans launched Cookery Catering, a social
and corporate catering company that offers seasonally designed menus. As executive chef and partner of the Vaughan, Ont.-based business, he oversees menu development, designing specialties such as red quinoa quiche salad, Ontario-raised spring lamb pappardelle and garden rhubarb tart. “He pushes the envelope further and further, doing to food what the masters have done to canvass,” says Ricardo Roque, executive chef and founder of Crème Brasserie in Toronto, who worked with the young chef at Magna Golf Club. In addition to catering weddings and functions, including a private wedding with members of the Barenaked Ladies and former U.S. president Bill Clinton, his catering team can be found at the Aurora Farmers’ Market in the Greater Toronto Area, selling preserves and serving brunch from spring to fall.

Leading Change

Desha Sampson Marketing & E-business Manager, Eaton Chelsea

Rebranding a long-standing hotel property may seem daunting, but Desha Sampson makes it look effortless. The University of Guelph-Humber graduate started her career as a marketing and public relations coordinator at the former Delta Chelsea Hotel in 2007 and landed at the company’s corporate office shortly after. It was there she coordinated partnerships with Aeroplan and Air Canada, while providing marketing services for nearly 50 Delta properties. More recently, the marketing and e-business manager was charged with rebranding Toronto’s 40-year-old Delta Chelsea into the Eaton Chelsea by executing a $500,000 multi-media launch campaign. In six months, Sampson implemented new brand standards and marketing campaigns to generate positive word-of-mouth, including “You’ve-got-a-friend-in-Toronto” ads for print, online, radio and television. “She has that rare combination of ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ — both the talent to help create inspiring advertising and collateral pieces as well as the ability to keep projects on time and within budget,” says Ken Gruber, director of Marketing for the Eaton Chelsea. “Desha can be juggling 20 different tasks at the same time, yet never let it show — a true professional in every way.”

Sweet Victory

Sandra Abballe Owner & Heah Chocolateier, Succulent Chocolates And Sweets

Crafting 30 life-sized TV remote controls out of Belgian chocolate is just part of the job for Sandra Abballe who has dedicated her career to mastering the art of chocolate. Of course, such refined skill took time to learn. She began by studying baking arts in Toronto at George Brown College and staging under master pastry chefs such as Jacquy Pfeiffer in Chicago, before returning to Toronto to craft European-style desserts at Dolcini by Joseph in Vaughan, Ont. Today, she’s working in the same Greater Toronto Area town as owner and lead chocolatier of Succulent Chocolates and Sweets. Founded in 2012, the toque’s company prepares artisan, hand-painted and hand-made chocolates and confections, including sculptures, centerpieces and corporate gifts. And, Abballe takes business a step further, hosting private chocolate-making workshops and chocolate-and-wine pairing parties. Her work in elevating the art of chocolate has paid off — last year, she took home honours in the World Chocolate Masters Canada competition, winning Best Moulded Bonbon for a hand-crafted crunchy apple bonbon, made with freshly diced, caramelized apples combined with chopped oven-roasted peanuts. “Sandra has leveraged this remarkable achievement into many aspects of her business,” says Lianne Hubbard, gourmet marketing and promotion at Barry Callebaut Canada, Abballe’s chocolate supplier. Hubbard isn’t joking: the chocolatier is now being considered to become the newest instructor and ambassador for Barry Callebaut Canada, which will hold chocolate classes for the general public at its Chocolate Academy in Montreal.

Brew Expert

Nathaniel Ferguson Professor, Niagra College

Nathaniel Ferguson is a force to be reckoned with, not because he holds a black belt, but because he’s an authority on the science of brewing beer. The University of Guelph grad started his career in a lab, where he tested yeast to understand how individual genes affect yeast fermentations. Since then, Ferguson took his molecular skills to the customer level, when he worked in sales and brewing for Grand River Brewing in Cambridge, Ont. But, he didn’t just sell beer — he became head of the research-and-development department, producing special ales for events, customer requests and seasonal specials. Since then, he’s been teaching students in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations program at Niagara College on topics such as microbiology, filtration, carbonation and chemistry. “Nate came to work with our Brewmaster students in 2012, and his level of enthusiasm and passion is something that is both clear and infectious,” describes Craig Youdale, dean of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute, Niagara College. Thanks to Ferguson, a new generation of brewers are entering the marketplace more informed on brewing, from the macro scale, all the way down to the molecular level.

Made in Canada

Geoffrey Dillon Founder & President, Dillion’s Small Batch Distillers

Canadian spirits are continuing to gain recognition on the world stage, thanks to Geoffrey Dillon, founder and president of Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers, which produces craft spirits and sells them in Ontario, Alberta and Florida. Dillon launched his company in 2010 after completing an undergraduate degree in economics and biology at the University of Western in London, Ont. and studying at The Institute of Brewing and Distilling in the U.K. Based in Beamsville, Ont., Dillon specializes in spirits made by using locally grown ingredients, with a line-up that includes white rye, Canadian rye whisky, vodka, gin, bitters and fruit spirits. “He believes in creating local relationships, [showcasing] growers and producers of his ingredients, welcoming audiences to participate in building and adopting his brand and creating community around the shared passion,” says Barry Imber, owner of Insite, a Burlington, Ont.-based branding agency, which worked with the company to develop its branding and packaging. Dillon’s has proven successful, earning gold, silver and bronze medals for its white rye, Method 95 Vodka and Unfiltered Gin 22 at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Meanwhile, Dillon has been keeping busy. He served as a keynote speaker for the Ontario Culinary Tourism Association Tourism Summit and has been teaching Brewmaster and Brew Management programs at Niagara College in Ontario.

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