Our best stories about personal reinvention from a turbulent year in the restaurant industry

Our best stories about personal reinvention from a turbulent year in the restaurant industry

It was a transformative year for the hotel industry. Throughout, we talked to servers, chefs, and restaurateurs who reinvented themselves during the pandemic.

Photo courtesy of Roland Campbell
A certain Toronto cuisine inspires a new career

10Roland Campbell has always had a taste for exploration. He took time off to travel after graduating from high school and then chose a career with an outdoor passion bent over the journalism education he received. Then life took him back to Toronto, where he found a home in the hospitality industry – which has long been a lifeline for people between the one and the other. Here he talks about how working at a particular Queen West restaurant helped him decide what to do next.

A chef from Toronto goes to PEC to make cheese

9 Chef Jesse Fader spent six very busy years opening eight restaurants in the western end of Toronto. October last year, he decided to give it all up and move to Prince Edward County with his family to make cheese. Now they thrive in a way they were not prepared for. We paid him a visit to check out his new business – and stop his farewell party.

Two city slickers start a meat delivery service

8 In October 2019, Charlie Iscoe and Laya Bail, originally from Toronto, quit their finance and marketing jobs in New York City. They bought plane tickets for a trip around the world, hoping to be inspired along the way. They made stops in South America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Europe, but did not think of their new business idea until Covid forced them back to Canada. While living on a farm in Creemore, where Laya’s parents live, they began researching the meat industry and how they could logistically start a business that supplies and delivers sustainable meat. In July 2020, they opened Sunday Farms for family and friends and have grown through referrals and word of mouth ever since.

How Schitt’s Creek inspired a corner store

7 In August, Scarborough residents Daniel and Liana Naraine opened a 300-square-foot grocery store and coffee shop in Birch Cliff called City Cottage Market – despite having no retail experience to speak of. While both had originally envisioned the store as a part-time project, it quickly eroded their lives, replaced one of their careers and filled almost every other spare moment. We talked to the couple about how early pandemic evenings spent watching TV led to the life-changing decision to open a corner store.

Photo by Robert Skuja Photography

A veteran restaurateur goes back to school

6 In 1994, Ed Ho joined Dynamic Mutual Funds, where he worked his way into the investment advisory department, managing funds while enjoying the finer things in life. Until 2004, when he decided to make a change. Many of us know Ho from his forward-thinking Globe Bistro and Earth restaurants, but when he closed his last restaurant just three months before the pandemic hit, a new career was already taking shape.

From pastry chef to associate attorney

5 Cora James worked as a pastry chef in Toronto restaurants for over a decade and eventually reached the level of a pastry chef. But she felt she had hit a wall, and made the bold decision to leave the industry to pursue a career as a legal assistant. Her starting salary is as much as she earned at the peak of her pastry career, and when she saw the pandemic unfold, she did not regret having left her previous life. Plus: no more having to eat lunch standing over a trash can. We talked to James about her career and her decision to go another way.

When closing a top Queen West kitchen

4 Five years ago, the husband-and-wife team Guy and Kim Rawlings opened Montgomery’s in West Queen West. Veterans from the city’s hospitality scene and parents of two children under three at the time, the couple injected their locally obsessed ethos into every inch of the intimate place. When Covid hit, they built a grocery store that gave their customers access to food directly from their farmers. But despite a successful pivot, they announced in April that Montgomery’s would close. Here, they commemorate a restaurant that meant so much to them and their loyal regulars, and discuss the “logistical nightmare” of preparing CSA boxes and why it’s not goodbye, but see you later.

A chef from Toronto becomes his own employer

3 When the pandemic hit, Erin Smith worked as a chef at McEwan in Yonge and Bloor. After more than a decade in the business – and with three children under 10 – she and her husband, Brandon, also a hospitality veterinarian, decided to head north to Gray County, where they now own a four-bedroom, 12-acre bungalow. They have also set up a new business, Smith Dining, which offers private, in-house fine dining to Gray County residents. We talked to Erin about packing up and leaving town and what it’s like to be her own employer.

A pair of industrial life hoses get a fresh start

2 Maruta Ancans and Scott Mochrie, former Toronto hospitality workers with more than 35 years in the industry combined, say the layoffs forced by the early pandemic allowed them, and many in their industry, to reconsider their options. and leave bars and restaurants to previously unimaginable possibilities. We spoke to Ancans and Mochrie, who have moved to Bracebridge, about leaving the industry and what they are up to now.

A restaurateur reopens a day before going back in lockdown

1 Nicki Laborie, owner of Bar Reyna and Reyna at King, had mixed feelings when the province allowed outdoor dining to resume on March 20 – with Covid cases on the rise and another set of restrictions seemingly inevitable. After spending $ 40,000 on staffing and getting Bar Reyna’s patio in shape again, Laborie opened its doors on March 31, a day before outdoor dining was kiboshed again on – yes – April Fools’ Day. Here, Laborie explains how the whiplash of opening and closing has a high price tag, why restaurants can’t just make it clear overnight, and how it feels to flush thousands of dollars down the drain.

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