Restaurant Branding By Design


by Marni Andrews

When sisters-in-law Amreen and Seema Omar went from serving Indian street food at a Toronto farmers’ market to a 50-seat downtown restaurant, a trip to Mumbai with Toronto firm Jump Branding & Design helped inspire the decor for Bombay Street Food.

“The identity of the brand is no longer just the logo,” said Eric Boulden, president of Jump Branding. “The brand or the story is a better description of the experience projected to its guests. These stories do happen through signage, but can also be expressed through the way the bill is presented, the personality and tone of communication, the origins of the food, authenticity of the recipes or signature concoctions that make the space, brand and experience defensible.”

Another recent Jump Branding project is the flagship Basil Box location at the Ryerson University Student Learning Centre in Toronto. The fast casual concept also derives inspiration from exotic street food — in this case, the markets of Southeast Asia.

After spending time in Thailand and Vietnam, Basil Box founder Peter Chiu wanted to adapt Asia’s healthy local food for a western palate by toning down the spice level. At the same time, Chiu wanted to retain the authentic ingredients of those cuisines.

Chiu said the design goal for Basil Box was to target urban professionals and millennials with a modern, clean interior that references traditional Southeast Asian materials such as basket weaves (which became a floor-to-ceiling wall feature) and bamboo.

The design also took into account the millennials’ affinity for technology with the addition of power outlets under the tables.

“We look to create social moments within a space, places the guest will naturally use to socialize their experience and share with their following,” said Boulden. “Restaurants are fast becoming the emotional connecting point for consumers.”

In the last decade, Boulden said menu expectations have shifted, driven by millennials’ desire for better and unique experiences.

“In the last 10 years, expectations of menu strategy have shifted from wrap it and bag it to chef-inspired, recipe-driven meals with an origin of ingredients story,” Boulden said. “On average this group is spending 23 per cent more on eating away from home, and they aren’t eating what their parents ate.”

Simon Shahin, founder and CEO of BUILD IT By Design, said today’s diners want to drool over more than the meal. They expect a restaurant’s decor to be appetizing as well.

“The most recent trend is clients looking for a way to incorporate a selfie wall or marketing area that customers will utilize for social media, specifically Instagram, which helps to brand the location,” said Solid Design & Build Inc. founder and design principal Ian Rydberg. “While social media is a great tool, it has also caused restaurant goers to have a rather limited attention span.”

Tech Talk

With technology changing at a rapid pace, Shahin said restaurants are revamping their interiors to incorporate convenient grab-and-go counters.

As well, interest in innovations such as a bakery oven that could be operated via a mobile phone could reveal a world of possibilities.

Technology is becoming more sophisticated and it’s being integrated seamlessly and sometimes invisibly into the customer experience, said Richard Dirstein, principal, executive vice-president, design and innovation, Shikatani Lacroix Design.

He mentioned tabletop digital menus, ordering tableside using a tablet, one-way digital signage, data-driven signage, interactive technologies such as touchscreens and projections, and immersive experiences using augmented reality and interactive projection mapping as examples.

“A lot of the newer technology can be integrated into a space without the need for much modification. However, technology must have a purpose. It’s important to not add digital for the sake of adding digital,” he explained.

Shikatani Lacroix recently designed a new 400-seat restaurant concept for Boston Pizza at Front and John streets in Toronto. With an immersive digital strategy, the prototype features multiple digital feature walls to create an “engaging Boston Pizza canvas,” said Dirstein.

Boston Pizza rendering

Helen Langford, Boston Pizza senior vice-president of foodservices and design, noted the new restaurant prototype features about 50 per cent more screens than the chain’s other locations. In addition, having specific screens dedicated to live feeds allows more personal interaction at the table, since guests are not checking their phones for that information.

There are also two touchscreens, one in the waiting area with a copy of the menu and one in the take-out/delivery area highlighting game-day specials. A state-of-the-art kitchen video system is also being tested.

Dirstein said that one of the challenges of the BP project was designing a space that could easily accommodate groups of all sizes. The solution was flexible restaurant seating with modular segments for scalability. And every seat in the house has a view of a digital screen.

Setting the mood 

Andrew Muller, business development, Louis Interiors Inc., said he’s seeing a trend of straight lines in furniture, especially with banquettes, which are now featuring built-in plugs. He also noted restaurants and designers are being bolder with colour and fabric choices.

“Restaurants want to stand out when their patrons post, tweet or snap photos to social media,” he said. “Guests today are tired of waiting and expect a waiting area that is comfortable and fun. The lounge seating needs to make a strong first impression and not turn off customers before they even try your food. Today’s customer puts an added emphasis on having the decor picture-ready.”

BUILD IT By Design recently worked with Paramount Fine Foods to build their Richmond and Spadina location in Toronto. Shahin said lighting and furniture play a large part in how a restaurant brand defines itself visually. This year, he is seeing restaurateurs move away from buying pieces off the shelf and toward more custom furniture, fixtures and lighting.

With the Paramount project, the design team used custom lighting to set a refined mood and custom wood tables, banquettes and chairs. Prior to installation, the entire restaurant was laid out in BUILD IT By Design’s facility as it would be in the final space so ownership could make adjustments before the restaurant was operational.

“It’s one thing to see a space in layout, but it’s another to be able to navigate it fully built out like customers and staff would,” explained Shahin.

Rydberg is seeing a lot of Art Deco trends in furniture. In lighting, he says the main trend is warm, rich brass.

“Our clients are all looking for that standout feature or element that will identify their brand as well as have a long-lasting effect on their customers,” Rydberg said.

Tammy Demaine, owner/partner, Bum Contract Furniture Ltd., said a patio with nice furniture will attract customers. “And a patio full of customers on a nice day is a bonus to the bottom line,” Demaine said.

Boulden said as the lines blur between quick service, fast casual and casual dining, lighting choices have shifted. Bright fluorescents have given way to the warm glow of Edison lamps in quick service restaurants and casual dining. LED lighting has provided the opportunity to control colour, temperature and lumens, while overall ambient light levels have lowered, coupled with carefully curated use of light that provides theatre within the space by utilizing light and shadow.

“Creative lighting has become an art in itself,” says Nipun Sharma, chief operating officer, Baton Rouge Steakhouse & Bar. “It follows through under the bar counter, on the floor, around the windows, on the walls and also from the increasingly popular open kitchen. A bright kitchen is increasingly on display front and centre in most modern restaurants today, even if the adjacent dining room is dark and quiet.”

Lighting in a restaurant can change everything, says Sharma, adding clever ways of engineering lighting and colours may influence ambience more than fancy decor.

Colour me rouge 

For Baton Rouge’s recent restaurant rejuvenation program in Oakville, Ont., there was a big challenge — how to attract a younger or newer customer base while not alienating the existing regular customers who contribute more than $100 million in sales to the 25-year-old brand.

“We had to carefully balance keeping all the good stuff that made our brand survive and thrive, while also making it current and vibrant,” explained Sharma.

To that end, Baton Rouge analyzed every detail with regards to restaurant design, including staff uniforms and menu covers. This included hiring Marie-Chantal Milette, designer and colour consultant at Kryptonie The Colour Agency.

Milette said research shows people make a subconscious judgement about a person, environment or product within 90 seconds and that between 62 per cent and 90 per cent of that assessment is based on colour alone. Other studies show that ambient lighting modifies the flavour of wine and our willingness to buy more.

“Everything that comes in contact with the customer has to convey a consistent theme of design and functionality that stays true to Baton Rouge’s history and brand promise,” said Milette, noting the new location features red, burgundy, cognac and copper colours.

Red, for example, is appetite arousing, while burgundy makes the customer see the brand as more refined. The cognac colour worked well with elevating the drink menu, while copper is currently trendy, she added.

The incorporation of lighting and colour was part of Baton Rouge’s rejuvenation of their Oakville restaurant, which was highly successful based on customer response, according to Sharma.

Dirstein noted good design is good for business.

“Eating at a restaurant is an investment in time. Restaurateurs are not only competing with other restaurants, they’re competing with anything that takes up an hour and a half of someone’s time,” he said. “Done right, design can help customers escape and immerse themselves in an experience. It’s all about the experience.”


Fruit d’Or: From Bog to Table


by Marni Andrews

Fruit d’Or, the world’s largest producer and processor of organic cranberries, has been successfully introducing their new retail dried fruit snack line called Patience Fruit & Co. since last Spring. The name, which was inspired by the extra time required to produce a quality product, has six SKU’s, three Whole & Soft (from 113 g to 142 g unit size, eight to a case) and three Classic (from 196 g to 283 g unit size, six to a case). Sweetened with either organic apple juice or a little sugar they contain no other ingredients aside from organic sunflower oil (less than 1%).

Patience is distributed through most major food retailers and natural food stores in Canada and is being introduced to the U.S. through nearly 600 supermarkets in the next two months. Shelf cases and display racks are available.

After being in the retail market for several years, Fruit d’Or decided to develop this side of the business as their client base expanded. The new business is completely different than their bulk business so needed separate expertise and a different business model, says Vicky Samson, Key Account Manager, Eastern Canada for Fruit d’Or.

Fruit d’Or is a leading supplier of cranberries and blueberries in bulk and has been a pioneer in organic cranberry farming since 2000. The company is located in Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, Quebec (pop. 700) which they call “a small corner of nowhere” where life is lived “at the rhythm of the cranberry.”

Without chemical fertilizer or pesticides, their berries grow more slowly and weeds are removed by hand. Their production process is unique to Fruit d’Or and they say only that it is both longer and slower than that used by conventional producers in order to end up with a bigger, juicier and tastier berry.

More than half of Fruit d’Or’s cranberry-producing areas, which are all local, are farms owned by shareholders of Fruit d’Or. The rest is from growers who are partners, confirmed Samson. The main growing challenges are insects and weed control but with all the growers concentrated in the same area they have developed strong expertise that enables them to produce higher yields than other organic fruits and without the problems of small fruits or rotting.

The better average yield we get from organic growers is at least 25% lower than conventional production, which is not bad, says Samson.  While yields vary greatly from one grower to another and one season to another, and depend also upon variety and the soil, typically Fruit d’Or’s yield is between 130 to 200 bbl/a compared to between 180 to 280 bbl/a in conventional. So their best organic growers are producing more than lower yielding conventional farms.

Another innovative Fruit d’Or product is their Whole Cranberry Powder, made 100% from their cranberries under the brand name Cran Naturelle for their Nutraceutical division. With high levels of proanthocyanidins (PACs) it is the purest, all natural, high quality, whole food cranberry powder on the market, according to Samson.

Since not all cranberry products on the market are crafted to Fruit d’Or’s standards, they recommend food & beverages or supplement buyers ask four questions before purchasing. Where are the cranberries from? Are they conventional or organic? What are the ingredient proportions? What food certifications does the producer have?

Even Fruit d’Or, with their constant emphasis on quality, continually works to improve their practices around sustainability. For example, they have broadened training for employees, ensure traceability of incoming produce and processed products, constantly improve recycling methods and are using a “closed circuit” culture whereby collected rainwater and melted snow are used to irrigate the fields.

The profile of the cranberry continues to rise in the natural foods world. Rich in flavonoids, phenolic compounds and antioxidants, its healing applications show no signs of slowing down. Research is even being done on the cranberry in relation to type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Canada is the second largest producer of cranberries in the world after the U.S. Other Fruit d’Or products are organic cranberry seed dry extract, organic cranberry seed oil and organic cranberry tea powder. They are sold in bulk only.

Fruit d’Or will be exhibiting next at BIOFACH 2016 from February 10 to 13 in Nuremberg, Germany followed by an active schedule including Natural Products Expo West in March and SIAL Canada in April.

SIAL Canada Hits New Heights


by Marni Andrews

SIAL Canada, to take place in Montreal April 13 to 15, is on pace to be the biggest ever with about 900 exhibitors from 50 countries, 240,000 square feet of space and 15,000+ visitors. Last year in Toronto there were 831 exhibitors from 45 countries.

Starting in 2010, the show has alternated between Toronto and Montreal and from 2010 to 2015 it grew by 65%. The decision to be in Toronto was to redevelop the brand outside of Quebec. While the two locations generally drew from either Ontario/rest of Canada or just Quebec respectively, this year exhibitors from Ontario are up by 30% and up by 58% from the rest of Canada.

Organic products continue to grow with approximately 150 companies expected this year compared to 130 last year and more exhibitors of ethnic foods as well.

“Organic foods and products are among the top ten reasons why visitors come to SIAL Canada,” says Marie-Christine Siviere, Communications Officer for the event.

SIAL Canada is a sister fair of SIAL in Paris, the second largest international food fair. The global focus is reflected in the exhibitors. The Toronto show has more Asian-focused exhibitors while the Montreal edition offers more Latin and North African exhibitors, which reflect the populations in each province.

The U.S. will be the featured Country of the Year while Spain, Hungary and Korea are taking part for the first time. There is a strong Latin American presence with companies from Argentina, El Salvador, Brazil, Peru and Bolivia represented.

Four buyers programs are organized for this year’s show:

  • The U.S. buyers program (launched in 2015)
  • A B2B program with UGI, one of the main buyers’ groups in Canada
  • A B2B program for ethnic buyers
  • An international buyers’ program for Canadian food processors

The growing sectors at SIAL Canada 2016 are:

  • Organic foods and supplements
  • Logistics and supply chain
  • Foodservice
  • Ethnic foods
  • Cheese (new sector)

“The growth we are experiencing is exceptional this year (+26%),” says Siviere. “The show is strong in all spheres: international (+58%), Quebec (+21%), Ontario & rest of Canada, cheese, foodservice, equipment, supply chain, etc. The last time we had this kind of growth (+35%) was in 2011 after the launch of our show in Ontario.”

SIAL Canada plans to expand the show by 10,000 square feet next year.

Nova Scotia Organics is #1


by Marni Andrews

Nova Scotia Organics, a Canadian organic herbal products company based in Halifax, has accomplished something remarkable. With their recent USDA organic certification for the entire product line, they now have the only full line of all USDA-certified organic vitamins, minerals and herbals on the Canadian market, with about 40 SKUS. The company, formally known as Naturally Nova Scotia, has rebranded itself to reflect this certification.

Founder Nancy Smithers says she changed the company name because “the word ‘naturally’ does not say anything, but ‘organics’ means quality and no chemicals.” She says it feels good to move from being a firm with products made with organic ingredients to one with all products 100% certified organic.

Smithers has been a pioneer in the field of all natural (and now certified organic) supplements for more than 20 years. As with many entrepreneurs, she entered her field in an unexpected way. In 1993, her sister, a physiotherapist, asked her for a supply of natural healing remedies for her practice. Smithers, who had grown up immersed in nature, researched local plants.

With the help of a herbalist, she learned what could be produced locally. Smithers started with tinctures of typical medicinal herbs such as borage, dandelion root, echinacea, red clover, heal-all, calendula and chamomile to target colds, female issues, immunity, allergies, pains, and coughs. “I incorporated in the first year of operation because I knew I would sell the tinctures,” she says.

While there were no major obstacles because she started small by wild crafting herbs, she found that preparing herbs in her kitchen was a problem. She needed a larger facility and purchased a 250-acre property she calls “the farm” five minutes from her house. She began growing her herbs there and followed organic farming practices, without synthetic herbicides and fertilizers.

The early years were full of lessons learned, starting with the basics of identifying different herbs as seedlings. Smithers grew seedlings in the greenhouses and transplanted them in the summer. She survived by hiring summer students.

And then came the selling. “This was a challenge because I was very nervous about going into stores and selling my products even though I realized they were wonderful. People asked me questions I was not expecting,” says Smithers, who adds that the first year was tough trying to explain to people why they should choose her products rather than others.

Her advice to anyone considering the same path is to plan carefully, have a vision and be realistic about where you are going. And don’t grow too fast too soon.

“Don’t be afraid, but be careful,” she cautions. It is a complex industry “that big pharma has gotten into, and they have a lot of money. I could have done something easier in life, but I love what I do. It is not a business for the faint of heart!”

Her other early lessons were economic. With no government funding available, Smithers was facing a considerable investment in machinery. “When I first started there was not much equipment around for my industry. My herb press came from the U.S., and my first freeze dryer from the U.K. My first labeling machine came from Canada and my first encapsulating machine from India,” she explains.

The purchase of the freeze dryer came when she realized after several years of producing tinctures that her market was looking for a pill format. And then came the challenge of tableting.

“Tableting certified organic ingredients is not easy because you can’t use flow agents, silicon dioxide, magnesium stearate, all the things that non-organic people use to keep tablets together,” says Smithers. “I had to hire a tableting expert to show us how to get the tablets to stick together. It is always a learning curve when you are in an industry like this!”

Smithers has promoted her products through the annual Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) shows in Toronto and Vancouver and has advertised in magazines. She got a distributor in Canada and made the bold move to expand into Japan in 1999 because the Canadian market was small and she had to spend a lot of money on research.

She also knew she wasn’t yet ready for the U.S. market. “Certified organic was not mainstream, and (U.S) consumers did not understand its importance. The Japanese appreciate organic products.” Opening a firm in Japan is no different than opening up somewhere else,” says Smithers. “The thing I had to learn was the culture. I have been in the Japanese market for 16 years, so I am accepted.”

Today, Smithers sells three-quarters of her products outside Canada. The primary export markets for Nova Scotia Organics are the U.S. (which she entered last year and will be focusing on this year), Japan and the European Union. In the next five years, she hopes to expand quickly in the U.S. market.

Her best sellers are Nova Greens in Canada, Berry Beauty products in Japan and certified organic multivitamins in the U.S. She employs between 10 and 20 people in Nova Scotia, including her son.

Smithers is very excited to change her encapsulated line to a certified organic capsule, a breakthrough for the market. “There is no other website with this kind of comprehensive line of only USDA-certified organic supplements,” she says. “Many people sell one or two certified organic products but not everything. I never have and never will produce anything that is not organic certified.”

Nova Scotia Organics will be exhibiting this season at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, March 10-13.

Jackie at 20, Perpetually Sunny

(Without Prejudice magazine)
by Marni Andrews

While driving through Indianapolis about six years ago on a road trip with friends and family, the unthinkable happened to Jackie Johnston. The big transport truck just ahead blew its left rear tire. It hit Jackie’s car and windshield with heavy impact. According to close friend Gabrielle Lowry, who was in the car with her, Jackie did not miss a beat. In Gaby’s words, Jackie was “totally cool and collected, totally unflappable. All was well!” Read more →

Raccoon Stories

(Metro newspaper)
by Marni Andrews

When farmer Harvey Andrews of Huntsville, Ont. watched a raccoon chase his large dog into the lake on his property, he was worried but far enough away to be helpless. His dog was smart, but he also knew how crafty raccoons were. What came next surprised even the experienced farmer. The raccoon chased the dog into the water just deep enough so that it was over the dog’s head. Then the raccoon stood on the dog’s head and drowned him.

“I knew it was going to happen,” Andrews said.

His neighbour, Don Evans, was playing cards at the dining room table one night with a group of people. One of the women looked up to see a couple of raccoons looming large in the full-length window, intently watching the game. She screamed.

A woman in downtown Toronto called the Humane Society in a panic when she discovered a large raccoon in her kitchen eating cereal from the box. He’d entered through the cat door.

Such are the Raccoon Stories that people tell.

For those who’ve never seen a masked bandit, the first time can be startling. For one, they are much bigger than expected, as Evans’ card-playing guest can attest. Todd Spencer, owner of Wildlife Removal and Prevention Services in Toronto, says, “They can be as big as a dog.”

In the city, they have become completely at home. So much so in Toronto that it is called “the Raccoon Capital of the World,” according to Amy White, director of communications for the Toronto Humane Society. “There are a high number of them in Toronto,” she agreed, “but the City can sustain it.”

Why Toronto? The abundance of wooded ravines and parks in conjunction with proximity to all kinds of food is a winning combination for the masked creatures.

“It’s a similar problem everywhere in Southern Ontario in the urban centres,” says Jane Sirois, information officer with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Aurora, Ont. “They’re city inhabitants; they’ve taken up residence.” She adds, “In urban areas of Ontario, raccoons can number 8 to 20 per square kilometre. In the lush, treed ravines downtown near a good food source, there can be as many as 100 per square kilometre.”

InToronto, people with raccoon problems can contact the Toronto Animal Services Centre in their district. An officer will look at the site, provide advice on animal proofing the property, and determine whether trapping is the best solution. Commercial wildlife removal companies are more commonly called in when a raccoon must be removed from between walls or crawl spaces.

Spencer of Wildlife Removal and Prevention Services says that in spring and summer, half of his business is raccoons, from seven to 10 jobs a day on average. “Years ago we used to trap and remove. Now we use one-way doors and monitor the device for four to five days. We leave some peanut butter out to make sure the animal is out, then repair the hole.”

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, trapping and relocating mature raccoons is detrimental to their health and welfare and is not recommended. Using devices that are inappropriate or illegal to remove raccoons, such as leg hold traps, can result in a fine up to $5,000. Leaving poison out to kill animals can result in criminal charges.

White says that 6,000 raccoons were taken in last year by the Humane Society’s Wildlife Department. “Very frequently, people trap mothers and leave babies behind. Raccoons are very good mothers; they’ll tear your house apart trying to find their babies.”

In the prescient words of the Toronto Humane Society from their website, “Raccoons really are not smarter than we are; sometimes it just seems that way. Raccoons cannot cause problems unless people allow them to do so. Instead of blaming them, we should work together to find a solution satisfactory to both humans and raccoons.”



Singin’ the Praises of Single Malts

(for Patron magazine)
by Marni Andrews

“The water of life” is what Scotland on Sunday terms malt whisky and who’s to argue? The good life is notable for quite a few things—not the least of which is time and the resources to indulge a taste for one of the fastest growing ultra-premium spirits: single malt scotch. As a category, single malts have been marketed for only the last 25 years and have exploded in popularity in the last 15 years. Read more →

Las Vegas: A Sure Bet for Food Gamblers

(Patron magazine)
by Marni Andrews

Not long ago, a ticket to Vegas was not a culinary ticket to ride. It may have been a ticket to Wayne Newton heaven, to slot machine nirvana, to 24/7 action, to transcendent golf, but it was not a place to go for a good meal. The Strip has changed, in many ways. Now Vegas is as often touted as a family destination (imagine that ten years ago!) as it is a foodie’s haven. Just mentioning this, because I’m sure you could find a business reason to visit Vegas some time soon and, while you’re writing it off, visit a few of the landmark restaurants that are revivifying this desert outpost. Read more →