By Javed Mufti
After I moved from Toronto to Vancouver for a change in lifestyle, I was surprised to discover it would be possible to enjoy a long and financially rewarding career in the full-service restaurant industry. For the past 10 years, my focus in that regard has been on opening Browns Socialhouse franchises throughout the region.
Early service experience
I’m originally from Montreal. My dad was an academic and when I was six years old, he got a position at Acadia University, so we moved to Wolfville, N.S., which is where I grew up.
One of my first jobs was a newspaper route. During high school, I worked part-time at the university’s cafeteria, where I got my first food-service experience, and then at the Acadia Cinema, where my manager, Al, was a great example of someone who takes pride in what they do. You might say he acted like he owned the place! It was an important lesson in the service sector.
After graduating from high school, I studied economics at the university, with no particular career path in mind.
I was there from 1984 to 1989 and earned my Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics. On the side, following my cafeteria and cinema experiences, I worked at a local pub, not realizing one day I would be running pubs myself!
I moved to Toronto for further work opportunities. One day, in a corner store, I met a representative of Ontario’s Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB)—now known as the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)—which was expanding its mandate at the time and looking for graduating students to fill entry-level positions. The timing was perfect. I got hired and worked there for three years, from 1989 to 1992.
At WCB, as I worked with people to see what types of employment opportunities were open to them, I noticed a lot of job dissatisfaction. I looked at my own role and realized I wasn’t 100 per cent happy with it. Eventually, I just decided to resign, pack up my belongings and drive out to the west coast.
Joining the club
One reason I chose that destination is I’m an avid skier. Toronto had been a tough place for me to enjoy the winters. When I got to Vancouver, the first job I took on was as a ski instructor for the season.
The following summer, I started to look at doing a master’s degree. I still felt the academic influence from my father, who holds a PhD in engineering and is still working for universities today, at the age of 77.
Back then, my dad was a frequent lecturer at the University of British Columbia (UBC). When he was in town, he would go to the Cactus Club for lunch. One day when I joined him there, I approached the general manager (GM) and asked for a job. At the time, Scotty Morison—who would go on to found Browns Socialhouse—was working right downstairs.
Scotty had partnered with Richard Jaffray and started up Cactus Club in 1988. They were amazing entrepreneurs who focused on development and, as a result, their business was growing fast.
Cactus Club stood out in the marketplace as a more casual alternative to the upscale restaurants of the time. It was corporate-run, not franchised. You might say they were playing in the space between pubs and fine dining. They provided consistent service, but also took good risks in design, such as putting nice couches in the restrooms.
Ultimately, they were the ones who showed me I could make good money with a career in this industry. I ended up working at various Cactus Club locations in management positions from 1994 to 2002. There was a lot of learning along the way, particularly about the difficult human dynamics involved in running a restaurant.
It was also during that time that I got married and started a family. My daughter was born in 2000 and my son in 2002.