|The O&B Leaders Take Centre Stage|
|Written by Brianne Binelli|
|Thursday, 20 September 2012 15:16|
TORONTO — The day began early for a roomful of foodservice and hospitality veterans, rookies and students who gathered this morning for an intimate breakfast and interview with Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini, led by Rosanna Caira, editor and publisher of Foodservice and Hospitality and Hotelier magazines.
This second instalment in Kostuch Media’s Icons & Innovators series began with the story of the founding of Oliver's Old Fashioned Bakery in 1978, which was opened based on a bet that Oliver could make better sandwiches than the ones he was eating at his business meetings as a real-estate entrepreneur.
In the first year, Oliver estimated the sandwich concept earned $200,000. Fifteen years later he convinced Bonacini, the chef at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto, to partner with him to open what would become Jump Restaurant. “It was a great opportunity. I was poached, (and baked in butter, I guess),” said Bonacini with a laugh.
Today, after nearly 20 years in business, the partners operate eight restaurant concepts, including Bannock, the newest edition and five event venues such as Toronto’s Board of Trade and Arcadian Court. The catering arm of the company booked 9,000 events last year, which is perhaps part of the reason the Hudson’s Bay Company formed a partnership with O&B, who started by taking over the foodservice for the department store’s location at Queen St. and Bay St.
But, growth aside, the partners emphasized the importance of learning from each other and the staff. “Sometimes we promote people before they’re ready,” said Oliver, explaining how encouraging people to achieve more than they believe they can accomplish has proven fruitful. It’s all part of a company culture. “You’ve got to learn to step back and let someone else take charge,” added Bonacini, speaking about how difficult it was to give up his time behind the stove.
It’s part of a company mandate to create an “intellectual” brand, one that is always boasting new initiatives such as the social network being organized within the company (an employee idea) and the possibility of introducing home-meal replacements in the future.
But, whatever the future holds the partners are adamant that there’s more to business than the bottom line. “Traditionally the purpose of a business is to make money, but it can be much more than that,” said Oliver. “An organization can exist to help people find themselves, and I’d like O&B to be that place.”
That thinking translates from the bottom to the top of the company, where the partners owe their successful “marriage” to an ongoing respect for each other. “It’s a partnership that has been heaven-blessed,” Bonacini said.