TORONTO — The Toronto Region Board of Trade was abuzz this morning as members of the foodservice industry gathered to learn industry trends, toast award winners and watch an intimate Q&A with Jeff Fuller, president and CEO of Vancouver-based Joey Restaurants, at Kostuch Media’s fourth instalment of its Icons and Innovators series.
Darren Tristano, EVP, Technomic, a Chicago-based research company, kicked off the breakfast session with an industry overview, noting sales of Canada’s top 200 chains saw an increase of 4.3 per cent in 2011, and unit growth of 2.5 per cent, as compared to the previous year. Tristano touched on upcoming restaurant trends and breakout concepts, including made-to-order pizzas, fast-casual sushi and premium pub concepts.
Next, the 2013 Green Leadership Awards were presented to Justin Keating, owner and GM of Quebec City’s Hôtel du Vieux Québec and Bob Desautels, founder of Ontario’s Neighbourhood Group of Companies.
The morning session culminated in an interview with Joey Restaurants’ Fuller conducted by Rosanna Caira, editor and publisher of Kostuch Media’s F&H magazine. The leader of the premium-casual brand shared the urban concept’s beginning, as Joey Tomatoes, an Italian concept, which became Joey Restaurant in 1995. “There was a huge transition as we evolved the brand. We moved from Italian to more of a Mediterranean influence, and we were rewarded by sales,” he said. Opening five units in six months, momentum grew as the chain morphed from a family driven space to a premium-casual concept.
Today, Fuller operates more than 22 units in Canada, from Vancouver to Toronto, as well as the restaurant brand, Local, which has four units on the West Coast. As he eyes expansion by two to three units each year, per brand, he’s focusing on nurturing a strong corporate culture, which promotes from within, offers ownership opportunities to managers and rewards chefs with trips to Italy. He also credits his team for keeping him grounded when he is eager to diversify. “If I was up to me, we’d have lots of concepts,” he laughs. “I’m a shiny object guy, but they’ve roped me in.” So, for now, Fuller is busy scouting new locations, overseeing design and fine-tuning the menu. “I’m very passionate about the design aspect,” he says. “Chef [Chris] Mills and I travel a lot and get inspired.”
Stay tuned for the next instalment of Icons and Innovators with Vancouver’s Vikram Vij. It will take place Sept. 26 at the Toronto Region Board of Trade.