Restau­ra­teur’s recipe for suc­cess

Pas­sion, fresh food and sound busi­ness strat­egy are key in­gre­di­ents at Meat Press

Ottawa Business Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID SALI david@obj.ca

Eatery owner Eti­enne Cuer­rier shares his win­ning for­mula in OBJ’s six-page Small Busi­ness Week spe­cial sec­tion

Ac­cord­ing to the old adage, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Eti­enne Cuer­rier’s loyal cus­tomers would beg to dif­fer.

Mr. Cuer­rier, the owner of Meat Press Cre­ative Char­cu­terie and Sand­wich Shop in Hin­ton­burg, cel­e­brated his first year in busi­ness in early Oc­to­ber. The long­time chef at well-known restau­rants such as L’Orée du Bois, Soif and the Wake­field Mill knew he was onto some­thing when his in­cen­tive pro­gram – buy 10 sand­wiches, get one free – gen­er­ated about 40 give­aways in the first month alone.

“That was very im­pres­sive,” the af­fa­ble en­trepreneur says with a chuckle. “We’re in a small neigh­bour­hood, off the (main) street. You have to keep (cus­tomers) com­ing back if you want to make money.”

Lo­cated in a small space tucked away on Arm­strong Road, a block north of Welling­ton Street West near Som­er­set, Meat Press has be­come a go-to lunch des­ti­na­tion for ev­ery­one from nearby of­fice work­ers and store own­ers to other chefs from es­tab­lish­ments such as Al­lium and Whales­bone who stop in for a bite be­fore their shifts.

“That told us that we were do­ing some­thing good,” Mr. Cuer­rier, 32, says of at­tract­ing clien­tele from within his own in­dus­try.

In­deed, busi­ness has been very good for the fa­ther of three young­sters aged 6, 2 and three months, who chose a bit of an un­usual strat­egy dic­tated largely by his hec­tic home life.

In­stead of tar­get­ing the din­ner crowd like most new eater­ies, Meat Press serves only lunch. Af­ter years as a chef who of­ten worked into the wee hours of the morn­ing, Mr. Cuer­rier de­cided things had to change when he struck out on his own.

“It was a bit im­pos­si­ble to have a fam­ily life,” he ex­plains. “We wanted to es­tab­lish lunch be­cause I think it’s the best way to get known. It was a big chal­lenge be­cause all the restau­rants I worked at … lunch was never a big hit. For us to sur­vive (serv­ing) no al­co­hol, only do­ing lunch was a big chal­lenge. It pushed us to see what peo­ple like, what can we do that is dif­fer­ent, that will in­ter­est them, that they’ll want to come back.”

Mr. Cuer­rier and his team of four chefs have man­aged to do ex­actly that, serv­ing up an ar­ray of sand­wiches fea­tur­ing fresh meat from nearby farm­ers and homemade in­gre­di­ents with a twist, such as may­on­naise in­fused with ba­con or duck fat “just to give it a lit­tle kick.”

Al­most ev­ery­thing is pre­pared in house, he notes, ex­cept the mus­tard be­cause, “I don’t know how to make it.” He used to bake his own bread but found the process too time-con­sum­ing, so nearby bak­ery Art Is In now sup­plies that part of the sand­wich equa­tion.

Lo­cally raised meat and pro­duce might cost a lit­tle more, he says, but it’s worth it.

“We wanted to es­tab­lish lunch be­cause I think it’s the best way to get known. It was a big chal­lenge be­cause all the restau­rants I worked at … lunch was never a big hit. For us to sur­vive (serv­ing) no al­co­hol, only do­ing lunch was a big chal­lenge. It pushed us to see what peo­ple like, what can we do that is dif­fer­ent, that will in­ter­est them, that they’ll want to come back.” – ETI­ENNE CUER­RIER, OWNER OF MEAT PRESS CRE­ATIVE CHAR­CU­TERIE AND SAND­WICH SHOP

“To stay on top, you have to start with very good prod­ucts,” says Mr. Cuer­rier, whose wife Myr­iam Cam­peau also helps out around the shop and does the books.

“And that’s what we did. I think peo­ple no­tice it.”

He also un­der­stands that restau­rants, like sand­wiches, aren’t very ap­peal­ing if they go stale.

To that end, Mr. Cuer­rier ex­pects Meat Press to get its liquor li­cence be­fore the end of Oc­to­ber, at which point he will start serv­ing din­ner. He plans to limit din­ners to three nights a week at first to see how things go, with a fo­cus on “fam­ily din­ner-style meals” – for ex­am­ple, seafood casseroles or duck cas­soulets that a whole ta­ble can share.

“It’s ba­si­cally try­ing to bring back the French cui­sine and the good times peo­ple had, stay­ing a long time at the ta­ble and en­joy­ing a pre­pared meal,” he ex­plains, not­ing that a cas­soulet takes three days to prop­erly pre­pare. “It’s some­thing peo­ple won’t do as much at home, es­pe­cially in the age group that we’re aim­ing for. It’s stuff that peo­ple don’t have time to do any­more.”

Mr. Cuer­rier cred­its the Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Bank of Canada and Fu­tur­preneur Canada for pro­vid­ing him with the level of seed fund­ing – $45,000 – that one of the big char­tered banks likely wouldn’t. He has no re­grets about his ven­ture, though if he had to do it over again, he says, he would have been “a lit­tle more ag­gres­sive” in launch­ing a din­ner menu sooner.

His ad­vice to as­pir­ing restau­ra­teurs? Review your busi­ness plan early and of­ten to en­sure you’re stay­ing on track.

“The busi­ness can grow faster than you an­tic­i­pate,” he says.

“In the first week, we started sell­ing out. I didn’t have the time to close the kitchen and make those big changes that I needed to do.”

PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON

Sand­wiches of fresh bread, local meat and homemade top­pings are al­ways on the menu at Eti­enne Cuer­rier’s Hin­ton­burg lunch spot.

PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON

Fam­ily is never far from restau­ra­teur Eti­enne Cuer­rier’s thoughts.

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