By Peter Saunders
This fall, Browns Restaurant Group president and CEO Scott Morison was recognized by the British Columbia Restaurant & Foodservices Association (BCRFA) Hall of Fame for his lifetime of success as a restaurateur. Over the past year, his company has doubled in size, opening Browns Socialhouse premium casual-dining franchises in Canada and operating as Scotty Browns in the U.S.
Learning the restaurant business
Morison’s experience goes back to his early days washing dishes at a Husky Car and Truck Stop just outside his hometown, Winnipeg. From there, he knew he was destined to make restaurants his career.
“I was 14 when I got a job there in 1979 and I really liked the energy,” he says. “It was certainly better than my previous job, pulling weeds at a nursery. Now I wasn’t sneezing!”
After he worked there for a year, his family moved to Nanaimo, B.C., where he got a job at a restaurant called Camelot. And when they moved to Calgary, he worked for Pizza Hut. In this way, he continued to hone his skills at a variety of restaurants during an industry boom in the early 1980s.
“My sister worked at Earl’s,” he explains. “Going there was my first experience seeing what a casual full-service restaurant concept was like.”
Morison took professional cooking courses for a year at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). In addition to learning the basics of meals, soups and sauces, he studied microbiology.
“We got to do a lot of hands-on cooking for the whole college,” he says.
When the family then moved again, to Vancouver, he switched to the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) for his second year of studies and worked for a local Earl’s restaurant.
In 1986, he partnered with Richard Jaffray to open Café Cucamonga’s, a sandwich and ice cream parlour. The experience allowed them both to learn how to be owner-operators. After building the business, they sold it and started another restaurant, Cactus Club Café, in 1988.
“It started out as an absentee-owner breakfast concept, but after the first four months, we ran out of money,” Morison says. “So we turned it upside-down, got creative with the food offerings and gave it more of a ‘party’ atmosphere. By the end of the year, Cactus Club was reborn.”
As a premium casual-dining establishment, the reworked concept was very successful and grew into a chain across British Columbia, with additional locations in Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon.
“I had a good 18-year run before walking away with a sense of the structure for what would become Browns Socialhouse,” says Morison.