After graduating from Bowness Senior Composite High School in 1984, I accepted a position in the hospitality industry as a Chef’s apprentice. I completed my provincial Gold Seal and my inter-provincial Red Seal as a cook in 1987. The majority of my professional cooking career was spent in the private club sector of the hospitality industry, holding the positions of Chef de Partie Saucier, Chef de Partie Patisserie, Sous Chef, Head Chef, Executive Sous Chef and Executive Chef.
Throughout my professional cooking career, spanning from apprenticeship through to Executive Chef, I competed in numerous culinary competition salons. In 1990 I helped organize and manage the first non-government sponsored team to challenge Team Alberta for the right to represent Canada at IKA in Cologne Germany. Sadly, yet not totally unexpectedly, we did not accomplish our objective, however, the experience instigated my journey to becoming more entrepreneurial in my thinking, leading me to purchase my first real foodservices company and specialty butcher shop.
Since then I have owned five other restaurants, three in the casual full service market segment and two in the quick service market segment, as well as maintaining management contracts on three other restaurant operations. Through management contracts with these businesses and others, I have held the position of Food and Beverage Manager, General Manager, Director of Operations, and Director of Human Resources.
Brentwood Career Day 2017 Synopsis
Range of Responsibilities:
More than a restaurateur, I consider myself an entrepreneur. What’s so great about being an entrepreneur?
You can be active and interactive in your community. You bring your values to your business and can impart this on the fabric of your company. Being a good corporate citizen is important to my family and myself so we pursue the objective of being responsible to the community in which we serve. We are active in our community on many levels, from working with and raising funds for our local hospital and community foundation, to managing and supporting events put on by numerous not-for-profit and charitable organizations. Our staff are committed to “Being the Change”, as Craig and Marc Kielburger say. The Keggers have raised funds to support the building of fresh water wells nationally and locally as well as raising funds to purchase medical supplies for the Hedley village in India. Our Keg also raised funds to build and support a village in Kenya.
In 2013, at the urging of my daughter and one of her friends, we helped to create Mighty Peace Day in the Peace Region of Alberta. Modelled on Free the Children’s “We Day”, it is a one-day event designed to inspire, celebrate, and educate the youth in our region. We are currently gearing up for our third Mighty Peace Day, to be held on May 2nd.
So to me being an entrepreneur is so much more than being a business person, you also take on the responsibility of bringing your values to the communities in which you serve.
The hospitality industry is one of the top ten employers in Canada. In Alberta, the hospitality industry currently employs more people than the natural resource sector. Unfortunately, most of these are entry level positions that do not pay nearly as well as the natural resources sector, so the industry does see some of the highest employee turns over rates in the country.
You can almost always get a job in the hospitality industry. Depending on your education, skill, and experience level, there are some good jobs always available in the industry.
Being an entrepreneur does give you a lot of autonomy in setting your own direction and determining your own fate. There are challenges to your autonomy depending on your direction as an entrepreneur. If you follow a franchise path, this will often limit the amount of autonomy you have to set your own course. Partnerships can be beneficial and challenging, but regardless, they will shorten your proverbial rope, depending on the level at which each partner participates financially, and restricted by your shareholders’ agreement. You really do get to own your own success, but you have to suck it up and own your failures as well.
Challenges are apparent in every industry. A restaurant’s biggest challenge is Financial Capital. It is extremely expensive to build a restaurant and you have very large operating expenses relative to what you sell your product for. The value of restaurant equipment is basically 10% of its cost once you install it. Top that off with the fact that the myth of 90% failure in the first year does not make it easier to raise capital. However, in actual fact, approximately 55% – 60% of all restaurants in Canada will fail within the first three years; 26% in the first year, 19% in the second year and 14% in the third year. Even without the 90% myth, these are not good odds; add to that a small bottom line and you can quickly understand why banks and investors are not big fans of restaurants, less so if you go the independent route versus the franchise route.
There is fierce competition in business and people are attracted to the newest and latest thing. This is as true for restaurants as it is for technology or entertainment. New restaurants and new food trends enter the market every day. International chains are entering the market with large scale regional builds, eastern franchises are entering the western regions looking to capture some of the market share and vice versa. So it really doesn’t matter that it’s only 60% of restaurants that exit the market within three years, there is always someone with a new idea or a new food trend to add to the competitive market.
The larger economy as a whole also affects how people spend their money. Dining out becomes an easy item to drop from your budget when your spouse just got laid off and your disposable income just got washed away. The same is true for the corporate dollars we all compete for; cut the price of a barrel of oil by two-thirds and expense accounts dry up very quickly.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t have the next big idea or the next best burger franchise. You need to learn to plan for downturns and you need to be ready to be knocked around a bit from time to time. Be proactive – don’t wait and hope it’s going to turn around; look forward to what’s coming.
Three best pieces of advice I can give are:
1/ Staff Relationships are Critical to your Success.
Remember, your livelihood is their livelihood and vice versa. They work for you but you only exist because of them – never forget this! This is especially important in retail and restaurants where your staff are your front line – they are who your customers see and deal with and they set the standard for your business – they are your face.
Your staff need to feel connected to the business – they need to believe that they are your face and that you are behind them – they need to be proud to work for your company and they need to feel valued.
This isn’t just about great pay – it’s about feeling valued and feeling connected.
You can’t just cut their hours in tough times and not realize there is going to be an impact to them. You want to make sure they are on board and see the need for the cuts in the big picture.
Anyone who tells you servers are a dime a dozen has never had to properly train a server. Those people are part of the 60%!
2/ Hire a lawyer and an accountant you trust.
They are going to be expensive but they are your life-line. Listen to them! When they tell you something, take the time to understand what it is they are saying, don’t just nod and pretend. Really find out; ask them or take a course. Learn what it is they are telling you – it is probably important and their time is your money.
3/ They say it takes a village to raise a child but it takes a village to support a business as well.
Never forget you are a part of a village – the most successful businesses in GP are those that make it clear they live there and they care. Never take the community for granted, never lie to them, and support them to the best of your ability because without that community, you will no longer be in business, regardless of your industry.