Ask most restaurant operators what the true measure of success is and invariably many will tell you it’s cold, hard cash. But, while commercial success is always the goal of any business venture — after all, you can’t succeed if your business doesn’t make money — today, there are many restaurateurs who see critical success as a validation of their skills. Others, still, are more intent on wanting to expose restaurant-goers to a new cuisine and to new ways of thinking about food. It’s clear that in these days of ethical and corporate responsibility, a new breed of restaurant operator has emerged, one who wants to educate and change consumer perceptions, not only about what food is, and what it can be, but also to show how restaurants can contribute to a stronger sense of community.
What a difference a few years can make. Take, for example, this month’s profile of three successful independent restaurant operators (see stories starting on p. 32). These three operations are true reflections of the times in which we live. Calgary’s Ox and Angela is looking to find success with a Spanish eatery that promotes a fusion of vegetarian and carnivore eating, while also focusing on a strong beverage program; Montreal’s Maison Publique is looking to make pub food more appealing by promoting quality ingredients sourced responsibly; and Toronto’s Ursa is looking to educate consumers about how functional foods can make our bodies feel and perform better. Are they all driven by wanting to make money? Of course, and no one would tell you differently. But these owners are also intent on improving their culinary communities while making a personal statement.
Clearly, community involvement is central to today’s operating principles. It’s no longer just enough to succeed; it’s equally important to give back. This month’s story about community involvement, (see p. 45) perfectly illustrates the extent of this phenomenon. For example, the genesis of Toronto’s Paintbox Bistro owes much to wanting to employ disadvantaged Regent Park residents with the help of the government and employment agencies. “[Paintbox] was born of a plan for a business with a social mission of training and career development for marginalized individuals,” explains Chris Klugman, owner.
Similarly, Toronto restaurateur Anjan Manikumar recently made headlines by opening Canada’s first restaurant completely staffed by deaf servers. Sound implausible? Not in this new millennium where anything goes. Manikumar told the CBC that a deaf customer at another restaurant, who used to point at what he wanted to order, inspired his business plan. Customers coming into his restaurant place their orders by using sign language, which is illustrated in a cheat book provided.
Will these restaurants succeed? Only time will tell. And, like most, they’ll only succeed if their staff deliver good food, offer respectable service and are blessed with a little luck. But, in some ways, they’ve already succeeded by changing our perceptions of what today’s Canadian culinary scene is all about.