At one time, this wouldn’t have been unusual, but in an age where most adult children are choosing to take a pass on continuing the family business, some second-generation millennials are bucking the trend.
John Martins, 22, is one of them.
“I saw potential in this place since day one. I just had to put the effort in,” says John Martins, one of the future owners of Churrasqueira Martins.
The family-owned restaurant, Churrasqueira Martins, located in York at 605 Rogers Road, opened nine years ago as a takeout and fine dining under the ownership of John’s father, Carlos Martins. He immigrated to Canada from Portugal in 1987, working in construction and then in a bakery, before opening his own restaurant in 2008. He says the reason was his passion for food.
“I started cooking when I was 14 or 15, and with cooking, I have never stopped improving. I learn every day,” Carlos Martins said.
His children started working at the restaurant when they were 14. They soon realized it would offer them a bright future.
“He showed me a door, and I had to decide if I wanted to walk through it or not,” Martins said.
And walk through the door he did. He realized heading into his third year of university studying business finance and marketing at the University of Windsor, that managing and owning the restaurant was something he wanted to do. While his older brother, Steven, 25, attended Le Cordon Bleu for culinary arts, he accepted a head chef position at the family restaurant right out of school. The youngest of the three brothers, Rui, 20, is planning on going to school for culinary management which will give him an edge on how to properly run a restaurant.
“Restaurateurs that are not able to follow customer trends and understand how customers are evolving, will have more difficulty being successful than someone that is paying attention to those trends,” says Dr. Frederic Dimanche, Director of Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University.
John Martins wants to implement a lot of changes when he and his brothers fully take charge. They include, hire more staff, making the kitchen bigger, advertising the restaurant in bigger media outlets, and franchising the takeout portion of the restaurant. Though, his father fears franchising the takeout portion will result in loss of quality of the food.
Owning a restaurant is not easy. as John Martins sometimes works from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. the next morning. His father stresses that owning a restaurant is like having a second life, but John Martins would disagree.
“My dad made a reference saying this is your second life, but this is your first life. You will see this place more than your wife,” he said.
Colin Li, 25, knows all about that. He took over ownership of his family’s downtown Toronto Chinese Restaurant, Hong Shing, from his parents, two years ago, after they’d man it for 18 years. In this case, his parents were not in favour of his choice to take on the restaurant
“Chinese parents didn’t want you to do the same thing they did, Li, a second-generation Chinese Canadian explained. They wanted you to do better.”
Nevertheless, Li felt that he had an opportunity out of the University of Waterloo to make an impact in the restaurant business. He has spent two years rebranding the restaurant to make it more urban-looking from the interior and exterior, while still keeping the same customers they’ve always had.
“Familiar food in a 2017 setting is what a lot of people are saying,” Li said.
One problem Li has run into is the limitations with the menu. This is due to the perception that Chinese food is cheap. Li says it is hard to make the perception change when you are alone in trying to do so.
“The industry is very collaborate. Even though we are doing what we are doing to change, one restaurant cannot do everything, Li said. We need the whole entire community of Chinese restaurants to do the same to change the perception but none want to do it.”
Li’s “two-year plan” is almost finished and his parents are starting to realize what he’s been trying to accomplish. Change the landscape of Chinese cuisine and bring Hong Shing to the next level.
“Through our rebranding process, we wanted to build not just a restaurant, but we want to function to be a brand name, Li said. We base that on everything we do.”
While taking over a family-owned restaurant is not a common place anymore, some sons and daughters are realizing the opportunity they have in continuing the family legacy.
“It’s very important to all of us, John Martins said. We are very proud of it and to see it grow.”