Glowbal Restaurant Group has become a powerhouse in the fine-dining segment


For Vancouver-based Glowbal Restaurant Group (GRG), the overwhelming success of its flagship restaurant, Glowbal, in 2002 is what opened the door to expansion. Today, its portfolio comprises eight brands employing more than 1,100 staff, including Glowbal, Coast, Italian Kitchen, The Roof, Black+Blue, Five Sails, Trattoria and Riley’s, which opened in May 2022.

“Glowbal was a hit,” says Emad Yacoub, president and CEO of GRG, and Foodservice and Hospitality’s 2013 Independent Restaurateur of the Year. “It was the place everyone wanted to go, including professional hockey players and celebrities shooting films. We’ve had paparazzi at the door. It has grown organically and has become one of the most popular restaurants in Vancouver.”

At only 19, Yacoub immigrated to Canada from Egypt and began working at Toronto’s Harbour Castle Hilton as a kitchen helper. Later on, he became the chef de cuisine at the King Edward Hotel. From there, he was recruited by Vancouver-based Joe Fortes Seafood & Chophouse where he worked for two years before deciding to build his own empire. Yacoub’s university background in accounting has been beneficial for tracking cash flows to grow the business.

Yacoub says GRG’s success, in large part, is credited to its team members. In 2011, Yacoub selected two senior managers, who had been with him since the beginning, to be part owners. “The secret [for developing a good team] is if you meet people that [want to do well for both you and the business], give them a piece of the action. Don’t be cheap.”

Over the years, this belief has allowed GRG to achieve impressive results. When COVID-19 forced the temporary closure of restaurants, the company renovated The Roof, atop of Black+Blue, and installed a beautiful patio garden at Italian Kitchen. Currently, Coast is being re-vamped. The pandemic also afforded the company time to take control of its finances, ramp up pickup and delivery services, participate in community initiatives and think about the future direction of the business. In comparison to 2019, Yacoub says the company is up nearly 40 per cent in sales.

This year marks the company’s 20th anniversary. With that, GRG has plans to open its first-ever Black+Blue concept at the Exchange Tower in Toronto’s Financial District. The iconic steakhouse was also the recipient of Tripadvisor’s 2021 Travellers’ Choice Award for Top 10 per cent of Restaurants Worldwide.

“We secured the best location in Toronto,” says Yacoub. “It was the heartbeat of the Financial District in Toronto. There were a lot of people competing for the space, but many of them pulled out when COVID hit. I still went for it because the city is my home and I’ve been wanting to come back to Toronto for the last 10 years.”

Slated to open in March 2023, Black+Blue Toronto will occupy roughly 9,000 sq. ft., plus a 2,000-sq.-ft. garden. Its interior has been outfitted by Navigate Design, led by Ken Lam, co-founder and principal designer. When asked about the restaurant’s atmosphere, Yacoub says it’s one where people can envision “Frank Sinatra sitting in a booth, sipping a martini and smoking a cigar.”

The 220-seat restaurant will be helmed by executive chef Morgan Bellis, who’s currently in Vancouver working on menu development, with plans to move back to Toronto in either November or December to prepare for the opening. Black+Blue is one of few restaurants that offer certified Japanese Kobe beef rib eye and striploin. Other standout items include Japanese A5 Wagyu Rib Eye ($27 per ounce), striploin ($29 per ounce) or tenderloin ($35 per ounce), chilled seafood platter ($200), Beef Wellington ($58); coq au vin ($36) and Ahi tuna tataki ($21).

Fortunately, Yacoub says he hasn’t had a hard time hiring staff for the new location. With the pandemic prompting more conversations about the nature of restaurant work, Yacoub says maintaining a work-life balance is key.

“When I interviewed managers in Toronto, every single one of them said they average between 70 to 90 hours per week,” says Yacoub. “For us, my maximum expectation for managers is 50 hours. They were shocked when I told them that.”

Yacoub has ambitious goals for the future. By the end of 2024, he hopes to hit $100 million in sales. By 2028, the goal is to hit $200 million. “I’m hoping that once things work out for us in Toronto, we can start to bring in other concepts because the market will appreciate it.”

By Nicole Di Tomasso

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