KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY - Halifax restaurateurs on growing up in the industry and carrying on the tradition
Many of the most successful restaurateurs in our city were born into the food industry. They were the kids who had to head to their parent’s restaurants after school and do homework in the kitchen or in some back office, and maybe got to make a few bucks washing dishes or doing some other task they probably resented as moody teenagers. Upon graduation, they may well have had different dreams or planned out a different career path, but something pulled them back (luckily for us).
We spoke with three of these restaurateurs to find out why they ended up back where they started, and what it means to them.
Peter Nahas, co-owner of Mezza Lebanese Restaurant Group
“My parents’ first restaurant opened when I was three years old, and I was always there. I went to school across the road from the restaurant, and every lunch break and after school from ages five to thirteen I was there at the restaurant. We always make the joke that I grew up in the food court at the Halifax Shopping Centre.
“It was never my plan to be in the food industry. I did a master’s degree in public administration, and my plan was to move to Ottawa and work with the federal government. And it wasn’t until 2012 that I came on full-time with the restaurant business when my father retired. Then me and my brother took hold and rebranded everything and have grown from the two locations that we’d inherited to seven in Halifax and one in Dubai, where two of our sisters live.
“I was only interested in doing this if it was going to be game on, with this rapid growth, and I’m happy to say that this rapid expansion has been really successful. We’re looking at further expansion in the Middle East. Business is about what you want to get out of it, and some people are happy with one restaurant, but for me it’s about complete growth across Canada and beyond.
“We have this in our blood, and here we are. It’s been a busy few years, but it has been so worth it. Maybe I’ll still get to Ottawa one day, but it will be through opening a Mezza, not working with the government.”
Jenna Mooers, owner of EDNA
“My mom opened Jane’s on the Common when I was in grade nine, and I was pretty involved in the restaurant from day one — I was up late painting chairs the night before it opened. I worked there a couple of nights a week and weekends throughout my high-school years and it was an awesome job to have. I was brought up by the staff that worked at Jane’s and they were a big influence on me; it was pretty neat.
“My original plan was to be a social worker. I moved to Montreal and did an undergrad in sociology, then applied to do a master’s in social work but didn’t get in. I did get into a grad program in business. All through my time in Montreal I worked in restaurants and managed one there for four and a half years. It was something that came naturally to me, and always paid the bills, but it wasn’t until the opportunity here on Gottingen came up that it became a career path.
“I was still living in Montreal finishing my business degree when my mom had bought this building with the intention of eventually opening another restaurant, but had decided that she just didn’t have it in her. I came home one Christmas with my partner, Andrew, who is a general contractor, we looked at the space and it just started like that. It was stars aligning and good timing. My family thought they’d lost me to Montreal forever, but I feel like coming home I’ve completely fallen in love with the city again.
“In 2014 enRoute voted us number 10 of the top 10 new restaurants in Canada, which was very neat because in 2003 my mom was on that list. It was awesome to follow in her legacy, and I was humbled and honored to be on that list.”
George Christakos, co-owner of Ace Burger, Brooklyn Warehouse, Battery Park
“My dad opened up The Paperchase when I was three years old, and some of my earliest memories are of following my father to various meetings. I worked in the newsstand through junior high and high school, and we opened the café in 2003.
I remember my first day of university going to classes and then having to go to work afterwards. I was always busier than my peers; they’d be going to hang out, and I’d be going to work.
“I studied engineering at Dalhousie, and had applied to the School of Architecture there but I didn’t get in. At that time I was working at The Paperchase, and a friend who was working at Ela across the street got me a job as a busboy there, so I can joke with people that I started as a busboy and made it as a restaurateur. But there was always this entrepreneurial spirit in my family, and
I knew from an early age that I would own a café or restaurant.
“My father, Leo, and I started talking about doing a project together in around 2005, and then looked at a bunch of venues before landing on where the Brooklyn Warehouse is and opening that in 2007. Back then the term foodie wasn’t being thrown around, but there’s been this explosion of people wanting to try different things, and that’s made it a lot easier to do things out of the box and contributed to our success.”