Week of Oct. 4, 2010

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Iconic Toronto Restaurateur Passes Away
Toronto restaurateur Athanasios Karamanos, owner of Carman’s Steak House, passed away last month at the age of 84. Better known as Arthur Carman, Karamanos was born in Patras, Greece and immigrated to Canada where he worked in New Brunswick and Quebec before moving west and opening Carman’s Dining Club in 1959 in Toronto. Carman’s became a fixture in The Big Smoke for half a century, attracting celebrities who flocked for the ambiance, steak and wafting aroma of garlic in the air. In addition to being one of the longest-standing restaurateurs in the city, Carman was also a humanitarian, receiving the key to his adopted city for myriad contributions to philanthropy. He was the founder of Caravan, the multi-cultural, annual festival that focused on sharing the customs, traditions and food of the various ethnic communities that make up Toronto. The restaurant icon is survived by his wife, Kathleen.

CFIA Internal Audit Reveals Import Policy Shortcomings
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) recently released findings, revealed in an internal 2005 to 2008 audit, suggest the agency has limited ability to monitor the safety of imported food. Now, the CFIA is seeking feedback on a regulatory proposal aimed at enhancing import controls. According to the agency’s website, the proposal could affect importers of food products that fall under the Non-Federally Registered Sector (NFRS) umbrella, such as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, candy, fats and oils, infant formula, spices, coffee and tea. According to the agency’s website, the proposal would, among other things, seek to “identify and engage regulated parties importing food products and ingredients in the NFRS, enhance verification of compliance with food-safety requirements and minimize the risk of unsafe products entering the Canadian marketplace.” The issue is being examined for a number of reasons, including the fact that 70 per cent of the food product sold in Canada is imported; the number of food-safety incidences involving imported product into Canada has increased in the past few years; and Canadians have begun to voice their concerns about the safety of imported food. For more on this story, click here.  

Minimum Wage Jumps Again
The minimum wage for workers in Canada’s smallest province was given a boost Friday, Oct. 1. The $0.30 jump is the second hike this year and will bring P.E.I’s hourly rate to $9. The province’s minimum wage was raised from $8.40 to $8.70 on June 1. The minimum wage in Nova Scotia also increased Friday, Oct. 1, shifting to $9.65 per hour for experienced workers, compared to $9.15 for inexperienced labour. These most recent hikes come after workers in New Brunswick saw their wages increased to $9 an hour just a month ago, with that rate also scheduled to jump a full dollar an hour to $10, on Sept. 1, 2011.

Pizza Delight Puts Franchisees in Spotlight
Pizza Delight has embraced the local movement, adding some 100-kilometre talent to its most recent ad campaign in Atlantic Canada. In a series of four 30-second television commercials, airing throughout the year, four of the chain’s top franchisees are featured — one in each ad — sharing their own stories about the food, the brand and their community. “Pizza Delight restaurants are heavily rooted in their communities and the same is true about our franchisees that own and operate them,” says André Levesque, vice-president of Marketing at Pizza Delight. “Our franchisees are our best ambassadors and having them star in our latest commercials just seemed like the natural thing to do. They embody the Pizza Delight brand, and they each have their own unique and interesting story to tell. We thought it would be fun to let them share it with their public.” According to company executives, the campaign has proven very successful, generating buzz and word-of-mouth for the brand and the individual stores.  

Fall Picnic Attracts Local Foodies
With the fall season in full gear, the fourth annual Picnic at the Brick Works took place at the transformed and rejuvenated Evergreen Brick Works facility in Toronto on Oct. 3. What is quickly becoming an annual tradition for Toronto foodies featured a virtual tour of the culinary regions of Southern Ontario, from Muskoka to Niagara and all points in between. Guests were treated to more than 71 food and beverage alcohol stations manned by some of Southern Ontario’s finest chefs who share a vision of productive food systems in tune with the natural world. Among the participating chefs were Anne Yarymowich of the AGO’s Frank restaurant, Jamie Kennedy from Jamie Kennedy Kitchens and David Garcelon from the Fairmont Royal York hotel. In addition to hosting the annual picnic, the food program at Evergreen Brick Works is comprehensive, focusing on growing, preparing and sharing food to inspire local food action. During the summer, Evergreen hosts a weekly Saturday farmers’ market, a feature currently evolving into a winter market that will offer “great fare all year round.” Later this fall chef Brad Long will launch his newest venture Café Belong at the Brick Works to nourish staff and visitors alike with local seasonal fare. Money raised from the picnic funds programming and children’s gardens at Slow Food Toronto and Evergreen Brick Works.       

McEwan Shares Expertise with GBC Culinary Students
When you’re an aspiring young chef the sage words of a respected and successful chef can be inspirational; such words can also open your eyes to the reality of the frenetic hospitality business.

With that in mind, the Culinary Theatre at George Brown College was packed with excited students last week as would-be toques waited to hear top Toronto chef Mark McEwan talk about a career that has spanned more than three decades. In addition to running three successful restaurants (North 44, Bymark and One) and an eponymous grocery store, the 53-year-old chef also stars in the Food Network’s reality series Heat and is behind the highly touted new Canadian version of Top Chef. And, if that’s not enough to keep him busy, he’s just published a cookbook featuring 156 of his top recipes.

The recent publication of McEwan’s Great Food at Home comes just as the celebrity chef opened his latest restaurant venture, Fabbrica (Italian for factory), across from McEwan, the grocery store he opened to rave reviews more than a year ago at Toronto’s Shops at Don Mills. The restaurant officially opened its doors Oct.1.

When asked if it ever gets easier to open a new restaurant, the chef admitted there are always complications ― from training and developing staff to sourcing equipment and liquor license delays. McEwan quipped: it’s like giving birth. What makes it more manageable, he says, is having a great staff who have been with him for more than 10 years.

Fabbrica boasts an “old-school Italian” menu. “I’m going to be Italian in my next life,” joked McEwan, responding to a student’s question of why an Italian restaurant? “I love Italy — the culture, the food. I love the simplicity of the food, but, at the same time, it’s complicated to do well. It’s all about the ingredients.”

As for the aspiring chefs trying to understand what makes a good chef, McEwan was straightforward and to the point. “It’s one thing to cook, it’s quite another to manage the business. I make sure I teach all students working with me how to read a P&L statement. If you can cook and can’t make money, there’s no place for you,” he said.

Miller Tavern’s Montgomery Wins Tequila Mixology Competition
Last week, Olmeca Tequila hosted The Tahona Society, a one-day interactive seminar for bartenders to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of tequila, its flavour profiles and its bar-rail versatility. What’s more, participants were also given the chance to strut their creative stuff in a no-holds-barred margarita mix-off. After the barkeeps took part in an intensive tequila master class, a panel of four judges was given the task of sampling the unique concoctions in the search for one ultimate winner to represent Toronto at a Tahona Society symposium in Mexico. Stand-out concepts included molecular tequila caviar from Nishantha Nepulangoda of Toronto’s Blowfish Restaurant and Sake bar; a café espresso, spicy mole creation from Toronto Institute of Bartending’s Clint Pattemore; a classic, slightly bitter, grapefruit margarita adaptation from Bartender One’s Gavin MacMillan and a hibiscus tea-infused blend from Colborne Lane’s Scott McMaster. At the end of judging, the top three contenders were announced over tacos, guacamole bean dip, chipotle pork ribs and, of course, margaritas, at Toronto’s Chimichanga Mexican Grill and Tequila Bar. Placing third, with her locally and seasonally inspired spiced pumpkin margarita was Böhmer Restaurant’s Renata Clingen, while second place went to Brad Gubbins, creative director at the Toronto Institute of Bartending, for his skilfully balanced orange sorbet-infused offering. The night’s big winner, who will now head to Mexico to take part in a week-long tequila crash-course with other global contest winners, was The Miller Tavern’s Rob Montgomery, who wowed judges with his pitch-perfect margarita, dubbed the Revolución 33 and a Third. It featured Asian citrus, maraschino liqueur and smoked welsh sea salt.

Days Inns Canada Honoured by Realstar
Realstar Hospitality recently honoured the recipients of its annual Awards of Recognition at the 2010 Wyndham Hotel Group Global Conference in Las Vegas. The 26 awards recognize the leading Days Inn locations and staff across Canada. Honorees included the Thompson, Manitoba Days Inn & Suites, the Medicine Hat Days Inn and the Days Inn – Regina, Saskatchewan for Property of the Year (based on room counts); the Dartmouth, N.S. property for Best Sales and Marketing Efforts of the Year; and Ishtiaq Awan of the Days Inn in Vancouver Downtown, B.C. for General Manager of the Year. Some Days Inns locations were also awarded the Chairman’s Award for Quality, which honours hotels that go “above and beyond” in service and daily operations. For more information on the winners and awards, contact Realstar Hospitality at (416) 966-8378 or email melissa.stober@realstarhospitality.com.

Choice Hotels Canada Holds Annual Conference in Toronto
“We’re recovering, but not recovered.” Those were the sentiments of Tim Oldfield, vice-president of Choice Hotels speaking to a room of franchisees attending the company’s opening session of its annual Canadian hotel conference. Held at the Hilton Toronto Airport, the two-day conference, which ran from Sept. 29 to 30, attracted more than 250 attendees who travelled from across Canada to network, attend educational sessions and learn more about what the Choice brand offers.

Oldfied pointed to a series of initiatives and economic indicators that show the industry is poised for a strong 2011. The initiatives he alluded to include recent ADS for Chinese travellers; the recent release of the Hotel Price Index from hotels.com, which shows that room rates in Canada are among the highest increases in the world, and the rebounding growth of the TSE. Closer to home, Oldfield pointed to a series of Choice initiatives that have been introduced during the past year. “Since our last conference, our Choice Priveleges has grown, and our portfolio has expanded by 20 hotels. We’ve also launched a new website, and we opened the first international Ascend property in Canada.”

Brian Leon, vice-president, Hotel Development, set the stage from the hotel development side. Though the supply of hotels continues to decline, he told the audience 20 new deals have been inked since 2009. “We have the largest development pipeline in Canada with 52 hotels coming in 2010 and another 41 in 2011; we have the ability to drive RevPAR. It’s going to be a remarkable year for us. We’ve had more growth in last year than in any other year.”

As for the future, Leon told the franchisees in the audience “we’re going to stay the course. We’re going to continue to enhance the brand. We have the right brand, in the right markets with the right people.”

Christiane Germaine Speaks to Ryerson Students
It’s been a busy year for Christiane Germaine, president of the Le Germaine Group. While many hoteliers have struggled through a challenging economic period, the Quebec-based businesswoman has been growing her empire, opening a new unit in Calgary earlier this year, putting the finishing touches on a much-publicized new hotel in Maple Leaf Square in Toronto and pushing forward a new brand that promises to usher in a new era for hotels.

The astute Germaine was in Toronto Oct. 1 to speak to a group of Ryerson alumni about her passion for the industry. As Germaine told the sell-out crowd, she’s used to growing through difficult times. She opened the Hotel Dominion in Quebec City in 1996 amidst a recession and later, in 2003, when she expanded the boutique concept to Toronto, the city was struggling with the after-effects of SARS. This year, the company opened a new hotel in Calgary at a time when most hoteliers were having a hard time filling rooms. “The land was very expensive for that project,” she told the audience. “If we were to open just a hotel, it would have had to be very big so in the end we decided to do a multi-use complex.”

But the growth doesn’t end there. Germaine is also looking for sites in Vancouver and Ottawa, and, in a few weeks, will open the company’s largest property to date, the 160-room Maple Leaf Square, adjacent to the Air Canada Centre. “It’s the first complex of its kind in Canada,” boasts Germaine, pointing to the condo/restaurant/grocery store.

Germaine also announced plans to start construction on the latest ALT Hotel (short for alternative) at Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson airport. According to Germaine, the new brand came as a result of her desire to create a new three-star banner that would be different than the competition. “We felt that all the other hotels in this category were the same, so we thought it would be nice to come up with a brand that is more dynamic. It’s a good concept to start at this time. It did well in 2009, despite the economy. There’s an opportunity in Canada to grow the brand.”

The first ALT opened in Brossard, Que., almost two years ago, and “very rapidly it’s become a success,” said Germaine. Six additional locations have been secured, including Halifax, Montreal and Winnipeg. We plan to have 10 hotels within five years. Priced at $129, ALT offers a pricing strategy that carries no yield management with it. Unlike other hotels in the industry, the pricing model does not change based on the peaks and valleys of demand. “It’s a pricing strategy that has been received very well,” said Germaine. “Our rooms are pre-manufactured and sent to locations. By doing it like this, we are actually able to save a lot on construction costs.”

Germaine believes the company has been able to grow because of its unique business model. “We create, we build and we operate,” she said. “I’m not in the real estate business, I’m in the hospitality industry, and I think of the guest that is going to use the room. At the end of the day, there are less surprises.”

 

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