Hospitality Heroes: Mark McEwan

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Over the past nine months, stories of how COVID-19 has decimated the foodservice and hospitality industry have become legion. But amid the destruction, frustration and the fear, a wealth of good-news stories has emerged, proving even through adversity, good can ultimately triumph.

Like all restaurateurs forced to deal with the wrath of COVID-19, Mark McEwan moved quickly to make tough decisions. Virtually overnight, he closed seven of his nine properties. “It was tough, but we understood the safety precautions necessary and pivoted swiftly with our grocery and catering offerings. We invested in significant PPE training, signage, changed store structures, removed hot tables, integrated individual packaged meals and more to ensure stores were safe environments for our guests and team. We continuously updated our protocols and products as we learned more and continue to do so,” explains the astute operator.
Through the upheaval, McEwan realized the desperate need to lend a helping hand to the community. “At first, we did what we could at store level. The first hour of shopping was dedicated to senior clients, we offered 10- per cent off for seniors and frontline workers, free grocery delivery for seniors and individual meals for staff.”

Through his grocery emporium, McEwan Fine Foods, he also donated to the Good Shepherd and The Seeds of Hope Foundation and produced meals for Mount Sinai Hospital, while working closely with Second Harvest — a group he’s actively supported for years.

“We also sold products like Vodkow’s local and sustainable hand sanitizer, where with each purchase, they provided meals for Second Harvest and hand sanitizer for their delivery teams.”

But it didn’t stop there. “At ONE Restaurant, we provided packaged meals for a variety of local groups, women’s shelters and paramedic teams.” In the local community, it worked with The Sanctuary, Church of the Redeemer and the 519. “We also created meals for The Interval House,” says McEwan, adding ONE Restaurant and The Hazelton Hotel worked in unison to prepare meals weekly for The Sanctuary and Church of the Redeemer.

McEwan also offered virtual cooking classes to raise funds for various charitable groups and his team showed support for various industry initiatives, such as Canada Take Out and #SaveHospitality.

Clearly, the impact of the pandemic has been multi-layered, but McEwan says it’s galvanized his team for the greater good. “At McEwan Fine Foods, our GMs, George Bachoumis and Eric McEwan, oversaw all logistics and any product delivery, while chef Kris Topping prepared all meals with his team.

“At ONE Restaurant, executive chef Darby Piquette and head pastry chef Amy Tenn-yuk reached out to me at the start of the lockdown. They live near ONE Restaurant and saw, first-hand, the aforementioned community organizations at work. These two very talented chefs, along with chef Richard Hakim, were central in beginning our weekly food donations.” As momentum grew, McEwan’s director of Communications, Jessica Rodrigues, as well as The Hazelton Hotel’s managing director, Hani Roustom, managed further co-ordination and outreach with additional organizations. “Many of the deliveries were personally dispatched by chefs Darby and Amy. Jessica and Hani also hand-delivered to community centres and helped spread the word to gain further support. I distinctly remember delivering meals to paramedics during the pandemic and it was amazing to see the dedication, commitment and positivity of these incredible paramedic units.”

While the pandemic has destroyed many layers of the foodservice community, the need to prevail has kept McEwan’s team focused on the greater good. “It was a hard time for everyone, but especially for different at-risk communities who really felt the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. We wanted to help where we could, give back to our guests who support us and show gratitude for the people keeping us safe. Many of the organizations we worked with also hold unique significance for our staff and creating these meals kept our teams active, which was good for mental health and morale.”

Nine months after the pandemic sparked a global frenzy, there’s still no end in sight. “We’ve continued to feel the impact of COVID-19. When we were able to open, it was at half capacity on patios only, then reduced capacity indoors and we were then made to shut indoor dining with 24 hours’ notice,” says McEwan, who has been vocal about the need for stronger political leadership. “It’s been a roller coaster, but we’re dedicated to making our restaurants as safe as possible for guests and staff. We’re evolving. We’ll continue to work with our long-term charitable partners while providing a safe environment for our guests to enjoy our offerings.”

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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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