By Nelson Tam
A snapshot captures a moment.
In this case, a slightly blurry one – three years ago. It was Staffy’s first year at the RC Show and we were excited to partner with one of Canada’s largest, annual, hospitality industry events.
At the time, we were a wide-eyed early-stage startup. We had less than 100 contractors, only beginning to compete with larger local staffing agencies. Our clients were mostly comprised of the smaller, more exciting restaurants in Toronto. The app interface was still being built.
At a glance, Restaurants Canada’s event looked like a standard large trade show. Perhaps similar to the National Restaurant’s Association Show in Chicago. Perhaps a place for corporate food service to shake hands, schmooze, and sell.
Upon taking our first walk down the thousand foot-plus floor of The Enercare Centre, we noted the following: the red carpet was out (literally); business cards were traded; vendors were everywhere, many offering food and beverage samples.
But among the suits and show badges, there were some toques and beards. And yes, tattoos too.
Toronto-based PEI native Chef Charlotte Langley was the show’s Culinary Curator that year, for the first time as well. She took the 2017 theme of “Canada Unleashed” to heart and pumped out several initiatives focused on the country’s chefs and culinary bounty.
“Hunt Camp” showcased wild foods and game meat prepared by chefs like Canoe’s John Horne and Antler’s Michael Hunter. Referencing 18th century Canada, it was a tent set up in the middle of the show floor, complete with a photo booth that included various furs and historic artifacts as props.
(Hunt Camp photo by Brilynn Ferguson.)
The RC Nation’s Feast, a separately ticketed, offsite event, united owner-operators from coast to coast. Chefs like Todd Perrin from St. John’s (Mallard Cottage, Waterwest Kitchen & Meats, The Inn By Mallard Cottage), Robert Belcham from Vancouver (Campagnolo & Popina), and Connie DeSousa and John Jackson from Calgary (Charcut) worked with product from suppliers such as Canada Beef, Fogo Island Cod, and King Cole Ducks.
It was Canada’s 150th birthday; this was a fitting celebration with some of our country’s finest. Everyone gathered to converse about and consume all the specials du jour: microbrews, smoked food, charcuterie, and anything sous vide.
Leap forward to 2020. Of course, a lot can change in three years.
At this year’s 75th RC Show, the only charcuterie anyone really spoke of was seacuterie. Suitably, Charlotte played triple duty between head honcho with Scout Canning (which launched three years ago), sustainable seafood ambassador with the Marine Stewardship Council, and duties for the Show itself.
To nobody’s surprise, Cannabis is still high (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves) on everyone’s list as regulations continue to develop. Perhaps not unrelated, we also noticed quite a few non-alcoholic beverage brands such as Seedlip and Sobrii takeover the usually booze-heavy beverage area.
More and more hospitality professionals are coming to terms with substance and alcohol abuse. Once champions of excess, Frederic Morin and Dave MacMillan, owners of renowned Bacchanalian Montreal restaurant Joe Beef, are both now sober and embracing healthier lifestyles.
The previously common hard-edged, heavy-consumption persona once associated with this business of making people happy has become far less popular.
Chef, author, and TV Producer Anthony Bourdain’s suicide in 2018 shook everyone hard, waking up the industry to speak out on the importance of mental health in a video. Two years later, its effects still ripple on stage with talks about “Fair Kitchens” and “Building a Better Bar Team.”
The industry has looked inward. For a group dedicating itself to making people happy, one could argue how surprisingly long it’s taken to prioritize its own happiness and wellness. Nonetheless, it’s an indication of growth.
And we’ve grown, too.
Staffy is now a comprehensive platform. Requesting a line cook, server, or dishwasher is almost as easy as getting a Lyft or Uber. Event staff. Brand ambassadors. Bartenders. Whatever the role, we have thousands of contractors across Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, and New York City. We just launched with about 500 on-demand staff in Houston.
We haven’t forgotten our core values: better pay for all workers; equal pay between Front of House and Back of House roles; better overall diversity and equality among the work force.
But our perspective has changed.
Back on the 2020 RC Show floor, we didn’t really notice the suits or toques, the badges or beards. Sure, they were all there. But somehow we simply saw a large, diverse community, coming together to support and learn from each other.