Piece of Mind

Justin Lussier, CEO and cofounder of Famoso, shares his thoughts on Canada’s restaurant and dining industry

Justin LussierWhat is the current state of Canada’s restaurant and dining industry?
It’s defined by increased competition and innovation. There are more and more creative and talented independent restaurateurs as well as new chain concepts from around the world populating Canada, resulting in increased quality, a wider variety of ethnic foods, and more niche offerings. It’s an exciting time for consumers. For businesses, it’s a test of whether your brand carries enough value and appeal to stand out.

How has the scene evolved in recent years?
Independent restaurateurs have redefined “fine dining” by presenting more creative dishes in more casual settings. Food trucks have popped up in multiple cities and specialize in everything from grilled-cheese sandwiches to homemade artisan popsicles. A new generation of multiunit chains has emerged that cares about quality, authenticity, ethics, and meeting guests’ ever-changing needs.

What impact has international cuisine had on Canadian dining?
It has defined Canadian dining for a while now. Twenty years ago, Chinese, Italian, and Greek food were all common staples here. They continue to be today, but more and more ethnic foods are becoming staples of Canadian dining—Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Mongolian, Swedish. That’s one of the reasons Canada is a great place to live—cultural and culinary diversity.

What are some of the challenges in your industry currently?
You’re always performing, 12 hours a day,  7 days a week. Atmosphere, service, and food quality always need to be nailed. Combine this with leading a group of young staff and competing in a saturated market, the challenges can be many.

What changes do you think are in store for the industry?
Buying local will likely continue over the next 5–10 years. Food costs will continue to rise, so creativity and ingredient selection will be key factors in achieving taste and value on menus. Some of the chains that have been around for decades may begin to die off if they don’t innovate and respond to consumers’ demands.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
I think some restaurants can unfairly suffer from online reviews and voting sites. Famoso has been fortunate enough to be well received by the online community, but even we have the odd review that makes me wish the customer would’ve just talked to a manager like the old days, so that we could resolve the situation and they could leave happy. Sometimes guests don’t communicate their needs in person, and it goes right online, which is disappointing.

What’s your favourite part about owning your own restaurant?
Our job is to bring people happiness, which is a pretty enjoyable task when you’re successful at it. When people tell me that Famoso is their favourite restaurant, it’s the best compliment we could have, and it makes our hard work worth it. I wouldn’t want to be doing this if it didn’t make people’s lives a little bit better.