Serving up social enterprise
Eric Wood, Hawthorne Food and Drink Photo: Max Telzerow
TORONTO—“In the last couple of years, I’ve wanted to reinvest in an industry that has treated me really well,” chef Eric Wood told CLN about his new undertaking, Hawthorne Food and Drink.
The 46 to 50-seat restaurant, opening at 60 Richmond St., Toronto in the first week of September, will be housed in a co-op owned by union Unite Here Local 75. The union, Browne, Trimen, CK Atlantis and an advisory council made up of the management of some of Toronto’s major hotels are all playing a role in getting the restaurant started.
“It’s meant to be an introduction into the hospitality industry,” said Wood. “There’s such a high attrition rate in this industry – newcomers aren’t used to the pace or level of work. This is meant to be the first step before formal training.”
Wood stressed that it will operate as a “fully functional restaurant that has a lot of interns,” with any surplus being reinvested back into Hawthorne programs such as ESL or digital literacy.
“We’re running a business to be able to fund these programs,” he said. “It’s similar to Fabarnak, which has always stood on its own as a restaurant—the social message is a bonus,” said Wood.
Wood took home the People’s Choice for Favourite Restaurant this year during the Toronto Restaurant Awards from the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association for his last project, Fabarnak, a social enterprise initiative of The 519 Church Street Community Centre.
Fabarnak also provided structured training “to help people with employment barriers to gain work experience under the guidance of a professional team of chefs and front-of-house staff,” according to the restaurant’s website.
Training at Hawthorne will be offered at different levels to target a wide audience, with both back of house and front of house programs and also smaller courses for specific topics, such as smoking, preserving, sous vide and HAACP.
The programs will offer the mobility for people to change job functions or enrich their skills, such as a junior sous chef from a hotel who wants to learn about smoking food, or a doorman who wants to be a barista, said Wood. “The average kitchen trainee entering our program might have some QSR experience, but we’ll teach him to learn prep, then move to the line,” he said. Front of house trainees will learn line, barista, bar and food service styles.
Rather than charging applicants for training, entrants to the programs are going to be working and paid a base wage, said Wood, although there may be a fee for unit courses. In terms of the average applicant, Wood believes that it will be a mix of industry people, as well as newcomers to the industry or Canada, and also residents of nearby Regent Park.
The food at Hawthorne will reflect Wood’s love of embracing international flavours. “I’m a global kid, but I hate the word fusion. We don’t have a definition of ethnic food here—Toronto understands food as a different language,” he said.
The restaurant will feature an in-house smoker and a meat locker (some butchering will be done on site). Wood, who will run the kitchen brigade, plans to make his own desserts and breads, and also focus on charcuterie. “It’s all about teaching hand skills,” he said.
The design for the approximately 1,800 square foot space will be put together by Toronto-based Square Foot Design Inc., and will complement the LEED-certified building with similar materials throughout, including natural wood, slate, iron and industrial glass.
There are plans for floor-to-ceiling windows, an open kitchen, natural wood tables and booth backs with tweed patterning.
For its long term model, Hawthorne will follow the example set by the union-operated Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, which started in an old motel operating a soup kitchen and now graduates 3,000 people a year to supply many of the hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, said Wood.
“Toronto has a burgeoning service market, with the upcoming Pan Am Games and potential casinos coming into the city,” he said.
“By nature, restaurants are training facilities anyways,” added Wood.
“We’re not limited to supplying hospitality programs…the goal is to enrich the entire hospitality industry. There are people out there that want a good job – we want to help them do that,” he said.
—Leslie Wu, Senior Contributing Editor