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Guilty men fear the truth

Finally women are coming out on sexual assault, and shining a spotlight on men who use their positions of power to exploit women. But, as with all change, there are people who don’t like this new world. They scream that it isn’t fair, that men in positions of power should continue to be protected, and the women who accuse them should be scrutinized. They ignore the flaws in the democratic system that allow the media to shame women into silence.  Studies show that 80 percent of sexual assaults are not reported, in most cases it is because women don’t want to face the shame and humiliation society hurls at them. Protecting these women is the first step toward moving our society forward.

Last week. when two women came forward to charge Patrick Brown with sexual misconduct, reporter Christie Blatchford, master of spin, came out ranting that the two women should have faced the media “because fundamental to a democracy is… the right to face your accuser and make full answer in defence.”  She didn’t explain why she believes that facing the accuser and defending yourself has to be done on a public stage for the media. Nor did she admit that it is the media that so often distorts the truth.  Finally our society is starting to realize that this shaming makes innocent victims suffer in silence rather than come forward. Exposing the accuser to ridicule and shame, to the spin that media personalities want to weave around them isn’t democratic – it’s archaic.

Make no mistake, Patrick Brown will face his accusers and he’ll get a chance to defend himself if he wants that. Every accuser puts herself at risk of being sued. Blatchford ignores this and laments that Brown has already been tried in a court of public opinion – she forgets it is the same court that has tried and hung so many women who sought justice. Take for instance, Monica Lewinsky – when it finally came out that she was telling the truth, the media refused to admit their own responsibility over the damage they had caused to her reputation.  Nobody paid a penalty but her, and the friends and staff who protected President Clinton walked away unscathed.  The media personalities who were directly to blame for damaging her reputation never had to be accountable.  They didn’t care what they had done, and they didn’t apologize.

Democracy isn’t perfect. It’s a constantly changing idea, a moving target that social change tries to improve. It is flawed. It allows people to hold positions of power over others, and if this power is held by someone who abuses it, people get hurt. It isn’t just men in power who cause harm, there are women like Blatchford who have a pulpit but no sense of responsibility, and they use their words to damage others. What she does too often isn’t reporting, or journalism… it’s public shaming.

Today our society is trying to make up for the decades of shame and public humiliation forced on women who reported sexual assault. Blatchford claims she is worried that all men in positions of power will become easy targets. And I worry too. I worry that the gutter style media is the very noose that will hang innocent men. 

Democracy is founded on the desire for fairness –  and it is this desire for fairness that is guiding the social changes we are seeing today. The far right accuses women of claiming victimhood, but today women have gone far beyond being victims. Women are angry, they don’t forget – they want to even the playing field.  If men in leadership are to be safe from false accusations, it will be up to the media to become more accountable for our role in shaping public opinion.

The two women who reported Patrick Brown have inspired other women. But what I find inspiring about them is the very thing Blatchford can’t stand — they have shown  women a path to reporting sexual misconduct that doesn’t involve being publicly identified, humiliated and shamed. I believe these two women have opened the floodgates, and the sad fact is that there are few women over 40 who don’t have a story, or two, to tell of men who abused their position of power.

I remember a time in 2010 when I was running for Mayor of Toronto and was on a show with the other top four candidates.  The show helped my numbers in the polls, so the next time I saw the host I asked if I might get on his show again. Always kind and friendly, he suggested we meet over lunch to discuss.  My assistant and I met him at Grano’s on Yonge Street, and the three of us ordered our lunch. Not five minutes in he asked me if I would have sex with him. My assistant almost spit his drink all over the table. I politely told the host that I loved my husband and would never do that. I then excused myself, went to the washroom and called my campaign manager. My manager was at first angry that I was alone with a talk show host, but when I explained that my assistant was actually sitting there with us and had heard the entire thing, his anger turned to shock. He advised me that if I didn’t want to “take one for the team,” then I should excuse myself and leave.  I followed his instruction, and later asked my EA what he and the host had talked about while I was in the washroom. He told me he questioned the talk show host to see if asking directly for sex actually worked for him. The host said that it worked 50 percent of the time.  Needless to say, I never got on his show again. His refusal to have me on his show simply because I wouldn’t have sex with him, made it harder to compete with the men I was running against who appeared on his show several times. 

And now, eight years later, I question if I should have spoken up. By keeping silent, have I allowed him to sexually prey on other women? If you are a woman and have experienced a talk show host who used a similar line on you, please reach out to me (sarah@sarahthomson.ca). Let’s talk. Your identity will be protected.  

As the publisher of Women’s Post, I believe there should be a way for women to report sexual misconduct without having to face shame and humiliation, and without having to drag men through the court of public opinion.  The world is changing,  you can fight the change or you can embrace it and try to make the world just a little more balanced for all.

But be careful of the likes of Christie Blatchford — she is the kind of person who will invite you to a party at her house and act like your friend. But, years later, when everyone is accusing you of lying and kicking you, she’ll sneak in a few kicks just to fit in with the guys – and then later, when  the truth comes out, she’ll hope that you didn’t notice how many times she kicked you. I noticed.

 

 

Doug Ford: King of cover up

Today, the worst candidate I can think of for leadership of the Ontario PC party – Doug Ford – has announced he is running. And I realize now why he didn’t come rushing to Patrick Brown’s side to defend him. Doug Ford is an overly ambitious man who would use his brother’s coffin to vault himself into the limelight.  Harsh words, but never have any truer words been written about the man.

Let me tell you about some of the secrets I’ve learned that happened in 2013, when I came out on Mayor Rob Ford’s drug induced grope.  Apparently, when the news hit social media, Doug Ford immediately started making phone calls to his “buddies” in the press. His strategy was to control and manipulate public opinion. He fed the press questions that cast doubt on me, he pulled the shadiest councillors he could find (from Vaughn) to twist the narrative, and finally he went on the Fords Newstalk 1010 radio show and made me out to be just another “crazy” woman.  Doug Ford knew that taking things out of context, and controlling the court of public opinion was the only way he could hide the truth. And for a while he managed to do it. 

But hiding the truth is a bit like trying to hold water in a broken bucket – it eventually leaks out. 

Doug succeeded in manipulating the public and hiding the truth about his brother and  his friends in the media made quick work of degrading me and making me out to be an opportunist.  They questioned my intentions and Newstalk 1010 in particular did some nasty public shaming. But that came to an end pretty quickly when the truth about Mayor Ford’s drug use finally came out.  That was when Doug Ford began claiming that he didn’t know anything about his brother’s drug use. By then most of the media realized they’d been used as his pawns. The Ford’s show on Newstalk1010 was cancelled and their power over the media went spiralling.  

When I learned about Mayor Ford’s drug dependency and the demons he was fighting, I forgave the Mayor. But I will never forgive Doug Ford for using his position of power to influence the media to demean and humiliate me.  I wonder how many women will actually support a man who demonstrated that he didn’t care about sexual assault, or that his brother was a drug addict?

I’ve always believed that Doug Ford’s lies put more stress on his brother than the truth ever did. Instead of encouraging the Mayor to tell the truth, I wonder if Doug counselled him to deny it?  When I think of the weeks that Mayor Ford had to carry the lie, and the pressure it must have put on him, I don’t understand how Doug couldn’t see what it was doing to him.

And make no mistake, there was a cost. Mayor Ford paid it. I paid it. But Doug Ford walked away relatively unscathed.  It is men like Doug Ford, men who abuse their power to twist and distort the truth, who need to be held accountable. He is a man so desperate for power he’s now decided that instead of running for mayor of Toronto, he’ll run for leadership of the Ontario PC party. 

The #MeToo campaign and #TimesUp campaign are a sign the world is changing, and women are no longer staying silent about corrupt men who abuse their power. It won’t be an easy road for men like Doug Ford.

Doug Ford is an example of a man who worked to hide sexual assault, drug use, and anything that might hinder his future ambitions. The world he once thrived in is changing and women are coming together to speak out.  Here at the Women’s Post we encourage women to step forward. To tell their story. If you have suffered, like I did, from the actions of Doug Ford please reach out to me. Let’s talk. Your identity will be protected.  

PC leader Patrick Brown resigns after sexual misconduct allegations

Around 1:30 a.m. Thursday, Patrick Brown stepped down as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives amid allegations of sexual misconduct by two young women.

This decision came as a shock, as hours earlier Brown called reporters to a press conference to vehemently deny the allegations, and to say he will not be resigning.

“I want to say: These allegations are false. Every one of them,” he said to reporters at the 9 p.m. press conference. “I will defend myself as hard as I can, with all the means at my disposal…I know that the court of public opinion moves fast. I have instructed my attorneys to ensure that these allegations are addressed where they should be: in a court of law.”

Following this statement, Brown’s top three staff campaigners quit. An emergency caucus meeting saw a number of Member’s of Provincial Parliament call for his resignation. Ontario PC deputy leaders Sylvia Jones and Steve Clark released a statement on Twitter, saying that “In the interest of the Ontario PC Party we unanimously agree that Mr. Brown cannot continue serving as the Leader. Mr. Brown is entitled to a legal defense and due process, but he cannot lead us into an election as a result of these allegations.

“The Ontario PC Party unequivocally upholds the principle that a safe and respectful society is what we expect and deserve. We need to move forward to eradicate sexual violence and harassment across the province.”

Brown will still sit as a MPP while he fights these allegations.

More to come.

TTC looking to innovate, grow ridership past 2014 levels

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) board will meet on Thursday to discuss ridership — how to move customers more reliably, make public transit seamless, and innovate for the future.

It’s a big topic. The TTC doesn’t just want to retain their current ridership. According to the TTC, ridership hasn’t grown since 2014, with about 535 millions trips each year. They want to see it grow along with the changing network.

“Over the past decade, major shifts in demographics, travel behaviour and technology have changed how people travel in cities,” the report reads. “The transportation system has shifted from a traditional model of owning a car or using public transit, to a “mobility as a service” system where one either owns their car or accesses a sharedcar/bike alternative.”

The goal of the TTC will be to focus on reliability, mobility, and innovation in order to increase ridership. To do this, the board will approve three initiatives:

  • Provide more surface routes to relieve overcrowding on busses
  • Implement two-hour transfers
  • Implement a discounted fare for PRESTO customers combining TTC and Go Transit/UP trips.

These three initiatives were discussed months ago by the board, as well as city councillors, so chances are they will pass at the meeting this Thursday. Other ideas mentioned in the report include a U-Pass for students, partnering with car-sharing services, and launching public awareness campaigns.

The board will also discuss a corporate strategy that will create a five-year plan “to be a transit system that makes Toronto proud.” This plan focuses on moving transit quickly, including looking at measures similar to the King St. Pilot to relieve congestion on certain routes under the Surface Transit Priority Plan. “Measures that keep transit moving include dedicated right-of-way like we currently have on the 510 Spadina and 512 St. Clair streetcars: queue jump lanes that let transit bypass other traffic at key intersections and traffic signal priority, which reduces dwell times for TTC vehicles by holding green signals longer or shortening red signals.”

There is also a goal to be 100 per cent emissions free by 2042!

Watch movies on Kanopy with your Toronto library card!

The Toronto Public Library announced a partnership with a video platform called Kanopy, which will allow anyone with a library card to stream thousands of films, documentaries, and training videos for free.

The platform already has over 30,000 films available for consumption, and “includes titles from producers including the Great Courses and PBS, as well as award-winning indie, documentary and Canadian films. ”

Kanopy can be accessed on your smartphone, tablet, PC, or Smart TC and is compatible with most software (Rofu, Android, iOS, AppleTV). Unlike platforms like Netflix, viewers are limited to eight films a month. Not bad considering that means two movies a week. You have three days to watch each movie, so similarly to Rogers on Demand, you can re-watch a favourite before the time expires.

Each film is fully accessible with options for captions and transcripts.

All you need to create an account with Kanopy is your library card number and email account.

Some examples of the films featured on Kanopy include Maudie, I Am Not Your Negro, Brooklyn, Patterson, The Man Who Knew Infinity, and the documentary Dior and I. The Toronto Public Library promises hundreds of new films will be added each month.

Kanopy was launched in 2008 in West Australia as a way to encourage learning through film. When it first started, the business model included hand delivering DVDs to university libraries. The founders have since made their service digital and have expanded across North America to over 3,000 campuses. Kanopy is just starting to partner with public libraries.

Sneak Peek: Café Boulud and getting the most of Winterlicious

I love the concept of Winterlicious. For a couple of weeks in the dead of winter, over 200 restaurants across Toronto offer three-course prix fixe lunch and dinner menus at cheaper than usual price points. You’ll find lunches at $23, $28 and $33, and dinners at $33, $43 and $53.

It’s a great reason to finally pry yourself out of the couch, perhaps consider wearing something other than pyjamas, and go have a delicious meal at that place you’ve always wanted to check out.

The problem with Winterlicious, and a common refrain I hear from some disgruntled licious-goers, is that it can be really hit and miss.

At the best of times, it can be the ideal way to try one of the city’s top restaurants that might typically be outside your budget. At the worst of times, it can be a human zoo stirred to frenzy at feeding time with unmanageable crowds and noise levels, seriously sub-par food, and dismal service, and a somewhat traumatic aftertaste.

Café Boulud is one place to find the former this January: a best-of-times Winterlicious experience.

Café Boulud’s Winterlicious lunch menu

While at other places I’ve found the pick of menu options to maximize value yields a fairly obvious choice of starter, main, and dessert (skip the pastas and salads; go for the fish, unless you’re vegetarian obviously), at Café Boulud I had a harder time deciding.

The choice of starter is between a meaty coq au vin terrine, a delightful comfort food staple — French onion soup — and a perfectly light and fresh smoked salmon salad with julienned apples. Uh, I’ll have one of each, please??

The pike quenelle I ordered for the main course surpassed my expectations. For the uninitiated, a quenelle is like a savoury sponge made with a combination of creamed fish, breadcrumbs, and egg to bind it. It’s much better than it sounds. It was huge; not common for a fish dish, especially not a Winterlicious one, and came surrounded by a rich and buttery bright yellow sauce with some firm mushrooms for a nice flavour and texture balance, plus rice pilaf on the side.

Chef Daniel Boulud has said this is his favourite dish on the menu, because it offers a slightly more adventurous, yet still accessible, foray into French cooking for diners who are keen to explore the cuisine further.

But the ile flottante for dessert really — excuse the eye-rolling cliche — took the cake (I know, sorry). That fluffy meringue resting delicately on a creamy pool of crème anglaise, dotted with a couple of raspberries and topped with a paper-thin maple sugar crisp, could be the best ile flottante I’ve had.

This is all orchestrated in a bright yet cozy upstairs dining area inside the elegance of the Four Seasons. It’s full of dark greens, rusty oranges, comfy leather banquettes and warm brass accents.

You can find Café Boulud’s full Winterlicious menus for lunch and dinner here.

How to get the best Winterlicious experience

Start by choosing your restaurant wisely. The cheapest options aren’t always the best value. I’ve found that it’s often better to “splurge” on a higher end restaurant, and at $33 for lunch it’s not that much more of a financial stretch. Look for places that have some prior years’ experience delivering Winterlicious menus so you won’t face any first-timer kinks. It can be wise to choose a smaller place with fewer seats to avoid the fall-flat catered feel of mass-produced menu items.

Finally, check out menus online first so you can be confidant there’s something on there you’ll love, and try to book during off-peak days (early in the week) and times (lunches are often less hectic).

Winterlicious runs January 26 to February 8, and bookings are already open. Seats can go pretty fast depending on the restaurant so make sure to book as soon as possible to get the table you want.

Do you plan on trying out a new restaurant this year? Let us know how it goes in the comments below!

Amazon prohibits salary inquiries for gender parity

Amazon is changing their hiring policies to ban managers from asking applicants about their previous salaries.

This is part of a US policy that is meant to reduce the gender pay gap. California, New York, New Orleans, New Jersey, Dalaware, and Pittsburg are a few of the states that have already implemented this policy. According to the Labour Code, the bill would “prohibit an employer from relying on the salary history information of an applicant for employment as a factor in determining whether to offer an applicant employment or what salary to offer an applicant. The bill also would prohibit an employer from seeking salary history information about an applicant for employment and would require an employer, upon reasonable request, to provide the pay scale for a position to an applicant for employment.”

The idea is that if potential employers don’t ask, then everyone entering the position will automatically be given the same starting salary based on experience and job title.

It’s an interesting concept, but there are many who believe the law could backfire and actually increase the gender pay gap. If previous salaries, or salary expectations, are not discussed, assumptions regarding the worth and value of the person being interviewed could guide the hiring process to offer certain people a lower salary.

For example, women could be offered less money than they earned previously, and be forced to either re-negotiate or accept the offer. The argument against this ban is that if women are able to firmly state their expectations and previous salary, the number in the original offer will be able to more accurately reflect their value.

The transparency element of this policy is admirable. Companies will have to provide a pay scale for the position to applicants, meaning those being interviewed will have an idea of what kind of salary they should expect.

While this is a state decision, national companies are now being forced to use this new hiring policy across borders.

It’s still a little early to determine whether or not a policy like this one will help reduce the gender pay gap or cause further challenges for women in the workplace. However, it’s an intriguing attempt by governments to take an active role in gender parity in business.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

New York Transit Agency needs Andy Byford

I actually missed the TTC last weekend.

I travelled to New York for a few days of broadway shows and incredible food. Unfortunately, it was a tad brisk outside. The tall buildings, while impressive, created wind tunnels that nearly caused some severe frostbite. Despite New York being an extremely walkable city, my travelling companion and I decided to take advantage of the relatively cheap seven-day pass and take the subway to as many destinations as we could.

And man, the time we wasted trying to figure that sucker out.

The New York transit system is rather large, which is great. You can get almost anywhere using public transportation, whether that’s uptown Bronx or downtown Brooklyn. You don’t have to live centrally in order to explore the entire city. You also don’t have to pay a separate fee for transitioning into each neighbourhood or region (great for your wallet). However, because it is so big, it can be difficult to navigate. As the person responsible for the transit map, I couldn’t tell which lines went where. Sure, simply having the green or yellow lines go North-South makes sense, but certain trains only went so far down the line, and where that line ended wasn’t indicated clearly on the map. A few times my group got confused and ended up on the wrong train, including getting stuck in a slow-moving loop with no one else on the car! 

To make things even more confusing, not all trains stopped at all local stations. The map showed not only coloured lines (which were easy), but also lettered and numbered trains that were unique. I still don’t understand what each of those letters mean.

The biggest problem, however, wasn’t the confusing maps. You can get a sense of how it works after a few days and the metro staff were able to give us some decent directions. The problem was the communication once you were on the train. Unlike the TTC, most of the trains didn’t have any sort of map displayed inside the vehicle to indicate where on the line you were and what stops were next. This,  in addition to an extremely muffled and inaudible announcer who said the stop names out loud, meant you had to rely on visual cues — difficult for a tourist unfamiliar with the area. I was constantly looking out the window to find the stop names to confirm my location, something that was incredibly difficult to do when the train was packed.

Finally, there was the emergency system — or rather the lack of emergency system! I won’t go into the story leading up to why it was necessary for someone to pull the emergency breaks on one of the subway cars, but the gist of the matter is that it DIDN’T WORK! A loud, annoying alarm went off, but the train didn’t stop. No one walked down the cars to see what was the matter, and no one showed up once the train arrived at the platform. It was completely useless technology! Luckily, this emergency wasn’t life-threatening.

Oh, and there was no emergency button or intercom either.

There were plenty of other things that bugged me, like basic public transportation etiquette. No one moved to the centre of the train, so it took forever to get on. Passengers sat in the middle of two seats and refused to move. People listened to music so loud everyone on the train could hear the lyrics. In Toronto, we complain about the slightest inconvenience, but in New York, commuters seemed to thrive on disrupting the people around them.

Like I said — I really missed the TTC.

Andy Byford appeared in Toronto exactly when the city needed him. It looks like he is going to New York at the right time as well. Best of luck to you sir; you’ll need it!

Should you go running with your dog?

On a typical morning before work, I am out the door by 5:30. The Vancouver streets are quiet and mostly deserted, except for a regular runner ahead of me with a frisky, four legged friend at his side. The pair always look happy, enjoying each other’s company on these cold winter mornings. They were like dance partners in perfect synch, running step for step. It made a delightful picture. A dog may be the most reliable companion to share in your running journey, because they are always ready when you are.

Does this image inspire you to run or walk with your dog?

There are many benefits to running with your dog, including keeping you both fit and enjoying bonding time with your favourite furry friend. They also provide comforting security, especially for women who run by themselves in secluded areas. But, before going for that run or walk with your wiener dog, dachshund, or pug, however, knowing the dos and don’ts of running with your pet could save you both a lot of grief and injury.

According to Vancouver-based veterinarian Dr. Kathy Kramer, you can’t just decide one day to go running with your dog. Owners need to be committed to their pet first. “Running requires training, since most dogs like to sniff along the way and get easily distracted,” she said. “Not every dog is cut out to be a marathoner.  Common sense dictates that while you may try to run with your border collie, you would leave your bulldog or Chihuahua at home.”

The best runners are athletic breeds, or dogs over 20 kilograms, Kramer explained. It’s important to do your research. For example, greyhounds are sprinters and not long distance runners while labradors, golden retrievers, border collies, and German shepherds may enjoy the freedom of a marathon. Larger dogs like great danes or mastiffs won’t enjoy running because it will put pressure on their joints.

Training for any distance requires following a proper program, and it is the same principle when running with your dog.

“Dogs also require conditioning like people do,” Kramer said. “A person would be crazy to start out by running 10 kilometres, so don’t expect your dog to do it!  The same wear and tear that affects a person’s joints will affect a dog’s as well. Acute injuries, such as soft tissue sprains or ligament tears can happen quickly.  As the dog ages, the percussive forces of running can cause arthritis to start at an earlier age.”

When you and your dog encounter someone on the trail, it is best to pull off to the side to let them pass without interacting.  A dog might be occasionally spooked and one should not assume others want your dog to greet them. People will feel safer when the lead is shortened.

Some smaller breeds will love running and some larger dogs would rather be couch potatoes. A good running companion depends on personality, stamina, and overall health. Dogs with high stress levels may not be able to run in the city.  Dogs that are prone to heart disease should be thoroughly screened for starting a serious exercise program.

It is also important to remember that dogs are stoic creatures who won’t show pain or discomfort until there is real damage. Heat stroke is the biggest risk during the summer. Dogs only sweat through their footpads and can easily overheat, even in normal temperatures.  Always have water handy for your dog anytime you run. If your dog is limping, call your veterinarian. Sprains or ligament tears can be very painful even though your dog is not crying out or will let you touch the injured limb.

There is some debate about the best age to start training your dog to run. Most dogs have finished growing by 16-24 months.  Kramer says if you start slow and on a soft surface, you can start to train the dog at around 12-18 months.

Will you try running with your dog this spring? Let us know in the comments below!

Woman of the Week: Janet Zuccarini

Janet Zuccarini is the CEO and owner of Gusto 54, a global restaurant group that encompasses a number of Toronto’s top restaurants, including Trattoria Nervosa, Gusto 101, PAI Northern Thai Kitchen, and Gusto 54’s Catering and Commissary Kitchen, among many others. She describes her role in the company as “the visionary”, responsible for finding locations, managing real estate, determining the concept, and assembling teams for each restaurant.

Zuccarini has an intense passion for international cuisine, with a specialization in Italian foods. She is the first Canadian woman to become an AVPN-certified Pizzaiola and was featured as a resident judge in Top Chef Canada’s fifth and sixth season. While her responsibilities now are more business-related, she started in this industry because of her love of food — both cooking and eating it.

Zuccarini has received the RBC Woman of Influence Award in Entrepreneurship and the 2017 Pinnacle Award for Independent Restaurateur of the Year. One of her restaurants is currently under review for consideration as one of Canada’s 100 Best New Restaurants of 2018. Here is what she had to say to Women’s Post in an email conversation during her travels.

Question: You are from Toronto, but you moved away for schooling, why?

Answer: I have a passion for traveling, which began at age 19 when I traveled to Europe on a one-year trip. I spent a few months in Italy on that trip and decided at that time that I needed to find a way to stay in Italy and experience living in that culture, so I found an American University in Rome and completed my undergrad there. When my four years was up and I completed my degree, I felt strongly that I needed to spend more time there, so I searched for another post-grad opportunity. I then found an MBA program at Boston University, which had a campus for a few years in Rome, and stayed in the city for another four years.

Did you always want to be a restauranteur? 

It all started with my father, who loved Italian food and was an incredible cook. We ate very well at home; always whole foods cooked from scratch. Living in Italy for eight years and being a student, I had to learn to really stretch a dollar (or back then it was the Italian lira), so I began cooking for myself and my friends. During that time, my friends would suggest that I open up my own restaurant, but I never thought that would become a reality. After I finished all of my university work, I traveled back home to Toronto for a friend’s wedding and went to Yorkville to get my hair done at Salon Daniel. I was chatting with a stylist there who told me that the corner of Yorkville and Belair was under construction and was set to become an Italian restaurant. I was intrigued, so I walked over and introduced myself to the guys who were opening it. Shortly afterwards they asked me to be a partner and literally overnight I was in the restaurant business. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was marrying my two passions: business and food.

What was the first restaurant you opened? 

I opened Trattoria Nervosa (back then it was known as Cafe Nervosa) in 1996 with two partners, which very quickly turned into only one partner. During that period of transition, I had to thoroughly immerse myself in the business to learn its ins and outs. In the early days, I worked every position; six days a week, 17 hours a day. I learned every aspect of the business, which is incredibly important to creating procedures so that you can step away from being a “technician” and put yourself at the top of your company where you can more efficiently and effectively run it. After the four-year mark, I bought out my partner (thankfully, as it was a soul-destroying partnership) and that’s when my life took this extraordinary turn. The business was stable. I had learned every aspect of it. I successfully bought out a toxic partner, and I really started to run my business instead of letting it run me.

How did Gusto 54 come about?

Three years ago when we decided to consciously transition the company from owning three restaurants in Toronto to becoming a global restaurant group. Gusto 54 was created in honour of my father, who opened up the Sidewalk Caffè at the corner of Yonge and College Street in 1954, which at the time featured the very first espresso machine in Canada, as well as the first wood-burning pizza oven and heated patio. My father was a pioneer and I owe any entrepreneurial spirit that I possess to him.

Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen is your latest restaurant to open – how is it doing?

Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen opened to Toronto’s King West area in early December and we are busy, which is great considering that we opened our doors during that time of year.

What does it take to run a successful restaurant?

To be successful in the restaurant business you need to deliver on all fronts of the experience, including service, food, location, design and music. You also have to consider what exactly you aim to deliver with your restaurant, as every concept will have different requirements. A destination restaurant will not have the same formula as a restaurant that services a neighbourhood. The restaurant business is arguably the toughest business at which to succeed due in large part to the fact that the margins are so slim. To help mitigate this risk we analyze sales and our numbers every day. All in all, you need to possess a certain level of business acumen, as well as consistently keep your finger on the pulse to deliver what people are looking for in order to truly succeed in this business.

What is the biggest challenge?

This can be a challenging business where you need to keep a very close eye on food and labour costs and keep the operations very tight. Systems, procedures and technology become integral in operating a profitable business that consistently delivers against our mission. Consistency in both food and soulful hospitality can also be a challenge given the number of people we rely on every day to serve over 3,500 customers. This is where training becomes essential in ensuring everyone is set up for success.

How do you make sure the food served is following the newest trends – or even leading the trends?

My job as the visionary is to make sure that my finger is always on the pulse of what’s happening in the world as far as food and industry trends go. I have a passion for dining out and checking out all kinds of restaurants wherever I go in the world.

What advice would you give to a young female business professional with dreams of starting their own empire?

You can do anything if you have grit and don’t let anything stop you.

What’s next for you?

I feel like I’m just getting warmed up in the restaurant business. We’re opening Gusto 501 to Toronto’s Corktown area this year, we are looking to open in New York, and we’re currently working on rolling out two additional concepts.

What do you do to help women?

As a woman operating in a primarily male-dominated industry, supporting and helping to empower women is extremely important to me. Many of the key leadership positions within our company are held by women including chefs, GMs, and our President, Juanita Dickson. In addition to contributing to various local organizations such as Women in Capital Markets, Dr. Roz’s Healing Place, and Dress for Success, I always strive to make time to personally meet with women to provide mentorship or advice.

What do you do when you are not working?

I live in Los Angeles half of the year, so I love taking advantage of the weather there and doing a lot of activities like tennis, hiking and biking. I’m also super passionate about yoga and, whenever possible, I love checking out new restaurants and hosting friends and family at my house for dinner.

I’m currently reading “The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance” by Timothy Gallwey, as well as “Becoming Supernatural” by Joe Dispenza.

 

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