Canada’s Best New Restaurants sets out to celebrate the best places to dine the year they open. Why? In part, because getting a new restaurant off the ground is half the battle. The other half, hinges on landing the support of the local community and travellers in search of a good meal. To succeed on both fronts, the top chefs and tastemakers from coast to coast agree on one thing: it all comes down to the company you keep.
Past Winners Dish on What It Takes to Open a Restaurant
The winners of Canada’s Best New Restaurants make opening a restaurant look easy. But behind the sparkling service and polished cuisine are years of hard work. Air Canada enRoute asked finalists from years past to share their best advice with would–be restaurateurs.
JinBar | Calgary, Alberta
Before switching on the neon “cocktails and dreams” sign at JinBar last year, chef Jinhee Lee made sure to crunch the numbers. “Money–wise, you should know everything that comes in and out of your business,” she says – right down to the last spicy buldak pepper flake and Jin Jin Mule garnish.
A balanced budget allows Lee to stay true to the South Korean resto–bar’s vision, inspired by childhood memories of her father bringing home fried chicken and ice cream every payday. “Always remember the dream that made you start this business, and never forget the spark that started that dream,” she says. “Enjoy what you’re doing and continue to make good food that will keep your guests coming back.”
Restaurant Pearl Morissette | Jordan Station, Ontario
Ontario natives Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson proved their mettle in Michelin–starred kitchens across Europe before landing the top position on Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2018 list with Restaurant Pearl Morissette. For the two chefs, success in the food business starts with putting people first, from the purveyors to the servers.
“It's important to focus on the culture and people who make up the business and let everything flow from there,” says Hadida. If the flow starts to ebb, don’t be afraid to change course. “Listen to feedback, even if it’s uncomfortable, and set goals for you and those around you,” adds Robertson. “It's always nice to tether to something in tough times.”
Don’t forget to cultivate connections outside the restaurant’s walls, says Hadida. “Explore your community in an honest way, and be considerate of the impact of your work,” he says, “whether that’s as simple as making a meal, or as complicated as inspiring change.”
Port City Royal | Saint John, New Brunswick
Letting the Maritime market dictate the menu is central to chef Jakob Lutes’ vision for Port City Royal, which earned second place on the 2015 Canada’s Best New Restaurants list. But Mother Nature is not always the most reliable partner. When the bounty from Bay of Fundy is less than bountiful, Lutes stays quick on his feet.
“Don’t discount the path less travelled,” he says. “Solutions can come from the darndest places.” One such solution was opening Marjorie’s Café in the restaurant by day, lending the business a little more stability to stay seasonal and local.
BonTon & Company | Dawson City, Yukon
When Shelby Jordan laid down the foundation for the backyard butcher shop that would eventually branch into BonTon & Company, she had no real restaurant experience. What she did have, though, was a 15–year career in environmental and renewable resource management and the drive to improve access to local farm and hunted meats.
“Definitely, do your homework and study the market,” she recommends to those in similar positions. “Also, it’s okay to ask for help. Don’t think you can do it alone.” At BonTon, help comes in the form of co–owner Dennis Dunn’s business savvy, chef Ariel Adams’ creativity and tireless work of farmers and producers across the Klondike.
Pluvio | Ucluelet, B.C.
Opening Pluvio was a dream come true for chef Warren Barr and his wife and business partner Lily Verney–Downey, which is why they prioritize taking care of the people who make it a reality. “While the restaurant is your passion, for your team, it’s their job,” she says. “It has to be worth it for them and they should be compensated accordingly.”
Compensation comes in many forms for the kitchen and front–of–house team at Pluvio, including medical and dental benefits, long–term housing, extended breaks and a six–week holiday at the start of each year. “It gives us all time to reset and get excited about coming back to the restaurant,” says Verney–Downey. Ultimately, whatever keeps staff coming back pays off, she says. “Holding on to good people is the best investment you can make in your business.”
Pompette | Toronto, Ontario
Not long after opening on College Street in May 2020, Pompette earned a rep as Toronto’s unofficial French embassy. Sure, the woven rattan bistro chairs, simple–yet–sophisticated aperitifs, and Old World–focused wine menu lend certain airs to that distinction. But another central ingredient, according to bartender Maxime Hoerth is “location, location, location.” In Pompette’s case, picking the perfect spot opened the door to Bar Pompette, an elevated snack, charcuterie and cocktail bar offshoot down the street.
Pomp and circumstance aside, Hoerth says it’s imperative to “surround yourself with like–minded talent” who will support you as you tackle the risks in the industry head–on. Fellow Parisian expats chef Martine Bauer and her husband and sommelier Jonathan Bauer, form a united front with Hoerth in this regard. “Opening a restaurant is hard, but it’s also very rewarding,” he says. “Keep pushing and don’t let go.”