From the Winter 2017 issue of Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News
By Sean Moon
As any restaurateur or executive chef can attest, a successful recipe is the culmination of using superior ingredients, talent and technique, often combined in unique or inventive ways to create an end result that is far greater than the sum of its parts. For entrepreneurs and foodservice industry innovators Jason Cassis and Jerrett Young, this has also been the winning formula for success in hospitality.
Co-founders and co-CEOs of Equal Parts Hospitality in the burgeoning culinary hotspot of Hamilton, Ontario, Cassis and Young bring together a combined 30-plus years in the hospitality and foodservice industries. Their individual track records in successful restaurant ownership and management, operations and business development have provided a formidable foundation for their many new collaborative projects under the Equal Parts banner. Splitting their focus on guest experience, company and community culture, as well as conceptualizing, designing, building and managing hospitality assets, Young and Cassis oversee over 200 employees with an additional 90 employees being added in 2018.
Legacy of Success
Cassis brings a legacy of successful Hamilton hospitality projects to the table, including such landmarks as The Aberdeen Tavern, Dundurn Market, and the Knollwood Golf Course, along with an impressive resume of real estate, technology and retail start-up investments. Meanwhile, Young’s operations, management and consulting career has flourished since graduating with an MBA in Hospitality Management in 2000 and then spending 14 years at top Canadian restaurant organization Oliver and Bonacini, where he spent the second half of that time as their vice president of operations. Four years ago Young started BluePrintHospitality, Inc., a hospitality management firm. It was during this time that Young met Cassis and, soon after, Equal Parts Hospitality was born.
While they come from different backgrounds, the two business partners share a common passion for hospitality, foodservice and entrepreneurship.
“Since I was about 12 years old, I have always had the mindset of an aspiring entrepreneur,” says Cassis. “With a passion for food and beverage, and an extensive background in running small businesses, moving into the foodservice industry seemed to be the most natural progression for my career.”
“I love the roots of hospitality,” adds Young. “I am drawn to the strength that humility and the willingness to please people play in my career. As restaurant owners, we have the privilege of sharing some great moments in people’s lives – it’s a big responsibility.”
Much of Cassis’ time is spent planning, building, researching, and developing the next steps for each new endeavor the company takes on. From designing the floor plans, to picking out the furniture, Cassis says he approaches each new project with a very hands-on approach in order to best execute the overall experience. He also understands the value in surrounding himself with a dynamic team of individuals who will all help take the company to the next level of success.
“My number one philosophy within this industry is: Employees are your everything,” says Cassis. “Building a welcoming workplace environment that encourages growth, rewards handwork, and values feedback is the most important aspect of any business, period.”
Young’s focus, meanwhile, is on the operations of each establishment while working closely with each team member in order to provide the best guest experience possible. His main role is to make each location work effectively from an internal standpoint. Understanding the importance of valuing each employee, as well as creating an environment that allows all guests to have an overall experience like none other, Young says he is constantly exploring new ways to grow this industry in unique and exciting ways.
“Hospitality is the only industry that plays a significant role in our lives from the moment we are born to the day that we die,” Young explains. “From crustless cucumber sandwiches, to popping champagne on special occasions, food and beverage connect people in all different ways while at the same time incorporating other disciplines such as sociology and psychology. The foodservice industry can be a tough career path, and I wish more people would take it as serious as other industries.”
Living Room Spaces
Among the company’s most recent creative hospitality projects are the revitalization of an historic 1854 building on King William Street to create a French bistro eatery known as The French, as well as a unique living room-style event and dining space to be called The Diplomat in what used to be the Baltimore House. Cassis says the new Diplomat concept is a restaurant focused on group, cultural and corporate events featuring seating for over 130 guests (and over 200 for cocktail), as well as a 36-seat patio and open kitchen. A collection of smaller “living rooms” make up the interior space and will help create a casual, fun atmosphere in a semi-private group setting.
On tap for 2018 are two new King William Street eateries, one simply dubbed The Italian for now, as well as an upbeat Latin American restaurant opening in the summer. Further down the road, planning is underway for an expansion of the Knollwood golf property with the addition of a boutique hotel projected for 2019.
Despite their own successful careers in business development, Young and Cassis attribute much of their success with Equal Parts to having built a strong and dynamic team of staff that is supported through comprehensive employee programs, training and benefits.
“We try to be different from the others by attracting the best kind of employees through creating an atmosphere that allows staff to be a part of our company’s narrative while encouraging their opinions and collaboration on future direction,” says Cassis. “We also do not run the company exclusively by a spread sheet; we value input from all levels of the company, and we put employee feedback above all else.”
Young wholeheartedly agrees, adding: “There are hundreds of people in the company who believe in what we are doing and have chosen to work with us. They have a desire to grow with us, and without them we would have no Equal Parts Hospitality. As one of my mentors taught me, we need them more than they need us. I don’t take that responsibility lightly, and I try to make a difference every single day.”