Five things we learned about O&B from Corey Mintz’s behind-the-scenes feature
With the recent announcement that Toronto’s ever-growing food service company Oliver and Bonacini Restaurants is set to make The Bay the city’s newest foodie destination with a string of in-store eateries, not long after adding food service at Muskoka’s Windermere House to its porfolio, one thing is clear: the O&B empire is officially taking over. In his recent Toronto Star feature on the corporation, Corey Mintz shadows the two men behind the company, Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini, to find out what it takes to build an empire. (Mintz also published a “deleted scenes” post on his own blog.) Here are five things we learned.
1. O&B is not impervious to failure.
Contrary to popular belief, not everything O&B touches turns to gold. Since its sister Bell Lightbox restaurants O&B Canteen and Luma opened for TIFF 2010, only the former has lived up to the duo’s lofty expectations. Luma, the more upscale of the two, has been “a bit of a concern and a disappointment,” admits Bonacini.
2. Canoe almost didn’t happen.
It’s almost painful to imagine Toronto without our fine-dining beacon in the sky, Canoe. But when the landlord of 66 Wellington Street approached O&B about salvaging a struggling restaurant on the TD Bank Tower’s 54th floor more than a dozen years ago, Oliver and Bonacini balked. They bit, though, when the deal sweetened, and today Canoe generates between $7 and $8 million a year. Thank God, because a world without tree-syrup-glazed frog legs is a world we don’t want to imagine.
3. O&B could be much, much bigger.
With 11 fully functioning restaurants (and a handful more on the way), three event spaces and two partnerships with specialty food companies (iQ Food Co., SOMA) in and around Toronto, O&B seems bent on pulling an Alexander the Great on Southern Ontario’s food landscape. But the prolific entrepreneurs say they pass on 99 per cent of the offers that come their way. All those people waiting for an O&B gourmet pet food shop will just have to keep waiting.
4. To water our plants and wash our sidewalks.
Budding restaurateurs take note: according to Bonacini, success is in the details. The very, very small details. Franco Prevedello, Bonacini’s old boss at Centro and Toronto’s godfather of fine dining, would ask his staff to spritz the plants just before service, giving the dining room the air of a dewy rainforest. Oliver in turn hosed down the sidewalk in front of his Yonge Street bakery twice daily. Clean sidewalks don’t necessarily mean yummy bread—but dirty sidewalks definitely don’t.
5. Be a chef or be a spouse.
It’s no secret that the life of a chef is one predominantly spent in front of blazing hot stoves with a bunch of other sweaty cooks—“10 to 14 hours a day,” says Bonacini, who acknowledges the personal toll being a chef takes on a marriage. But the former chef, now well into his second union, remembers that “there was also something not quite right about the chemistry,” which makes us wonder: do molecular gastronomists have a better shot at matrimonial bliss?