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Success Story Podcast

Dale MacKay – Top Chef & Restaurateur | Building a Top Chef Empire

By May 11, 2023September 24th, 2023No Comments

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About The Guest

Dale MacKay is a Canadian chef who has made a name for himself in the culinary world. He was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in 1979 and began his culinary career at 19. MacKay has worked in some of the top restaurants in Canada and the United States, including the Four Seasons, Lumière, and Jean-Georges. In 2009, he won the title of “Top Chef Canada” in the first season of the popular television show.

After winning Top Chef Canada, MacKay opened his own restaurant, Ayden Kitchen & Bar, in Saskatoon. The restaurant quickly gained national recognition and was named the “Best New Restaurant in Canada” by enRoute magazine in 2014. MacKay has since opened several other restaurants, including Little Grouse on the Prairie and Sticks and Stones, both in Saskatoon. He is known for his innovative approach to cooking, using local ingredients and creating dishes that are both elegant and approachable. Today, Dale MacKay is considered one of Canada’s top chefs and a leader in the country’s culinary scene.

Talking Points

  • 00:00 — Intro
  • 03:11 — From Saskatoon to Stardom: Dale’s Journey in the Culinary World
  • 04:44 — Crafting a Career in the Kitchen: The Art of Being a Chef
  • 13:50 — The Elusive Michelin Star: The Quest for Culinary Excellence
  • 17:24 — Lessons from a Master: Working with Gordon Ramsay
  • 20:03 — The Rise and Reign of Celebrity Chefs: A Chef’s Perspective
  • 26:52 — The Instagram-Food Paradox: Are We Sacrificing Flavor for Likes?
  • 29:00 — Tech Meets Taste: How Innovation is Changing the Culinary Industry
  • 32:44 — The Recipe for Success: The Grassroots Idea Behind Starting a Restaurant
  • 46:35 — Dale’s Checklist for Cooking Up Something New and Exciting
  • 49:05 — Striking the Perfect Balance: Innovation vs. Customer Expectations
  • 52:05 — Playing the Game: Balancing Competition and Personal Goals
  • 55:00 — Leading with a Dash of Spice: Dale’s Unique Leadership Style
  • 1:03:06 — Hospitality’s Brave New World: How the Future Will Impact the Business
  • 1:11:19 — If I Could Turn Back Time: Advice to My Younger Self
  • 1:12:29 — Final Food for Thought: Dale’s Closing Words
  • 1:14:30 — Savoring the Connection: How to Reach Dale
  • 1:14:50 — Beyond the Plate: Redefining Success in the Culinary Industry

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What is the Success Story Podcast?

On this podcast, you’ll find interviews, Q&A, keynote presentations & conversations on sales, marketing, business, startups, and entrepreneurship.

The podcast is hosted by entrepreneur, business executive, author, educator & speaker, Scott D. Clary.

Scott will discuss some of the lessons he’s learned over his own career, as well as have candid interviews with execs, celebrities, notable figures, and politicians. All who have achieved success through both wins and losses, to learn more about their life, their ideas, and insights.

He sits down with leaders and mentors and unpacks their stories to help pass those lessons on to others through both experiences and tactical strategies for business professionals, entrepreneurs, and everyone in between.

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Machine Generated Transcript

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

restaurant, chef, years, business, chefs, opened, netsuite, cook, food, money, kitchen, saskatchewan, aiden, industry, celebrity chef, hard, good, pandemic, months, documentary

SPEAKERS

Scott D Clary, Dale MacKay

 

00:01

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Scott D Clary  00:29

How hard it is to get even one Michelin star and how that system works.

 

Dale MacKay  00:33

Chefs live and die by the Michelin Guide especially European chefs and specially fine dining. Quite literally people have committed suicide, I can name you five chefs that committed suicide last 20 years from losing a scar.

 

Scott D Clary  00:46

Today. My guest is Chef Dale McKay, originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan McKay’s culinary career began as a fry cook in Vancouver BC. He then moved to London, England, where he began working at Gordon Ramsay’s Claridges restaurant. He eventually returned to Vancouver to become the executive chef at Daniel Boulud Lumiere Restaurant, where the restaurant was awarded the AAA Five Diamond Award under his direction. After winning Top Chef Canada and starting his own Vancouver restaurant, McKay returned to his hometown where he founded the grass roots Restaurant Group, working in his restaurants and around Gordon, what does that teach you

 

Dale MacKay  01:16

focus and diligence. I’ve never seen somebody so focused on a specific goal or a number of goals. There’s no point I’ve ever come up with an excuse that was good enough for him. He never really yelled like on television in the sense of just a yell to make a show. He couldn’t understand how the fuck you aren’t perfect. Why did you not take all those steps to make sure that you didn’t screw this up?

 

Scott D Clary  01:40

How do you feel about the trends of celebrity chefs? You know, I think it’s all welcome to success story. I’m your host Scott Clary. The success story podcast is part of the HubSpot Podcast Network. Now the HubSpot Podcast Network has incredible podcasts like my first million hosted by Sam Parr and Sean Perry. They interview some of the most incredible business leaders, Alex from Mozi Sophia Amoruso Hassan Minh Hodge, who share their journey to success and how they made their first million on a recent episode they featured the acquired podcast hosts Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal to discuss how they scaled their multimillion dollar podcast. Don’t sleep on my first million if you want to get inspired. If you want to learn from the best, you got to tune into my first million wherever you listen to your podcast today, my guest is Chef Dale MacKay. Originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan McKay’s culinary career began as a fry cook in Vancouver BC. He then moved to London, England, where he began working at Gordon Ramsay’s Claridges restaurant followed by stints in other Michelin starred Ramsay restaurants in London, Tokyo and New York City. He eventually returned to Vancouver to become the executive chef at Daniel Boulud Lumiere restaurant, where the restaurant was awarded the AAA Five Diamond Award under his direction. After winning Top Chef Canada and starting his own Vancouver restaurant, McKay returned to his hometown where he founded the grassroots Restaurant Group with Christopher Chou and Nathan Guggenheimer. With this group. He’s opened restaurants in Western Canada including Avenue, Aiden, Kitchen and Bar Dojo little gross on the prairie and sticks and stones. In addition to his Top Chef Canada win and 2011 Dale McKay has many more accolades to his name, including being named a Western living foodie of the year in 2014. While Aiden made air Canada’s enroute Magazine’s Top 10 best new restaurants list, one on routes People’s Choice Awards for Canada’s best new restaurants, and was on vacay.ca is top 50 restaurants in Canada list in 2014 to 2016.

 

Dale MacKay  03:43

I would say seeing a documentary I saw a documentary called boiling points. When I was 19 years old. I was given a VHS videotape from somebody that I’d worked with at the time it was really I was working in my first real good restaurant, I would say good in the sense of like, making everything from scratch that kind of stuff. It was in Whistler BC. I got this VHS, I took it home, watched it and watch it was a bug or Ramsey going for his three Michelin stars. He was 32. At the time, he was trying to become the youngest chef ever to get three Michelin stars. I saw this documentary was put on by the BBC. And it was like the most intense thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It was it was like yellowy, and it just felt like I was in a completely different world. You know, I felt like I had been some kids and kitchens and stuff, but seeing the intensity and seeing the level that these people were at, I just wanted it so bad. And so actually literally three and a half weeks later, I was living in England. So I saw that documentary and I applied for a visa within the week. My mom helped me apply for the visa and I got it back in three weeks and I I had a Lonely Planet book because this is like 99 And so I booked a hostel through Lonely Planet book and stuff and booked her for four days and showed up at his doorstep so I with that with you know I feel like I would have done similar but that documentary just kind of changed my course I was, I never thought I would just move to England at 19. And that’s just kind of what I did. So that documentary changed my life for sure.

 

Scott D Clary  05:11

And okay, so when when you That’s amazing. And I also love this similar thread between everybody that achieves anything is just this massive action. And it’s almost like you throw like caution to the wind, you just go for it. And that’s obviously like a huge career shift. So before that, you were you I mean, the story is you worked as a fry, cook, and you’re probably doing some small, much smaller jobs. So what is the experience? actually throwing yourself into cooking culinary arts as a profession? Because I bet before that video, I’m sure there was still ideas of what else? Or what if or if I go different directions, right? It’s not like you have a set career path. But now this video solidifies it probably expedited the timeframe in which you took that step. So what is the career path of of a chef of somebody that wants to be successful in this industry? Do you all have to go over to London, England, are there other ways to do it?

 

Dale MacKay  06:06

I think there’s there’s a few paths. But I kind of feel like I almost snuck through the back door for the level that I kind of managed to get to and the places that I managed to be the chef of and that kind of thing and working for who I’ve worked for and stopped by. I left school at 14 I quit school when I was 14 years old. I had a couple classes a grade nine. And then I just left school and I moved across the country to Vancouver, BC when I was 15. I’m actually on my 15th birthday, I bought a standby ticket when they still did standby tickets, flew across to Vancouver. And then I basically was kind of I had my brothers that were living in Vancouver, but I was somewhat on my own. And so I’ll start by saying I’m dyslexic, I do a lot of work with dyslexia, Canada as well. I’m an ambassador for them, I’m very proud of it nowadays, back then, is a very different situation. So I didn’t feel like I definitely didn’t have much career options. You know, I was aggressive in the sense of ambitious and I wanted to be something and I had a huge chip on my shoulder in the sense of I was willing to work everybody do that. So when I was washing dishes, because I virtually had no other option. You know, there’s not a lot of jobs out there for 15 or 16, or dropouts. And so I was washing dishes at a train called Red Robin, I’m not sure if you know, Red Robin. But it’s a burger burger and clucks and greens. And as they call them there and somebody didn’t show up to work one day, and they put me online and I honestly from that day forward, I knew I was going to be a chef and I wanted to be a chef, it was just a matter of me, you know, 15 or 16 year old, you know, dyslexic kid that really was partying a lot. And you know, doing a lot of, you know, everything basically just just kind of finding his way and then. So that documentary really kind of gave me the I was never scared to just throw obviously, I moved across the country when I was 50. And I was scared to kind of put myself in awkward situations. But I think that documentary gave me the thought of like, if I can go there, and I can be one of these people I could do you know, one year in Canada is like, I mean, I could do one year in England, it’d be like five years in Canada. That’s the way I saw it. I saw this is like going jumping into the army. This is jumping into like the highest level of training possible. So yeah, I always felt I think it helped me that I always felt like this is all I had, there was no other option. This was all this is what you had to put every piece of energy and thought and effort into it. And, and when I moved to England, it was almost like a, like a sweet release in the sense of I didn’t I didn’t care about anything else. It didn’t nothing else mattered. It was only about being in that kitchen 1617 hours a day learning everything I could do. You know, I’m someone and I’m sure you know, you interview a ton of people that like I would always factor in every little thing I possibly could every day, you know, what I you know, I was having the same containers, I always I’d hide pots inside of ovens overnight, I would do anything I could to make my day smoother twice, so I could look that much better. And I could advance myself that much quicker. And so I always looked at it. I always looked at myself as like the blue collar guy that you know, I was working with all these people that went to you know, culinary schools and all these different things and trained and did all these stars all over the world when I was just that kind of I think roughen kind of guy just hustled Yeah, just

 

Scott D Clary  09:18

hustled. Yeah, so do you figure Yeah. And, and how was how were you received in London? When when you came over on a whim? Like I’m sure that someone was looking at this kid coming from Canada like

 

Dale MacKay  09:30

yeah, and not a lot of no experience really a very, I mean, some experience in the sense of being kitchens, but never Gordon Ramsay level. I mean, when I joined Gordon, he had his his restaurant was number one of the world he was he was literally the per the top restaurant in the world. So showing up there I was just like, I kind of thought to myself if I can hang in there and I can work 1617 hours a day they’re gonna let me be here you’re gonna you know, and whether I’m picking herbs or I’m on the line. They’re gonna let me do it. I use the way I kind of thought so I didn’t try I’d have sent my resume I didn’t try. Because I had a crap resume, I had nothing going for myself in that sense. I didn’t go to school. So I showed up and I knocked on the door. And I asked for a job. And they said, Come back tomorrow for storage and which is a storage in our world is essentially an unpaid day or week or month, or however long that may be to trial. And so I went there and I picked langoustines loans, they’re like shrimp for 10 hours. And then, and then I think I cleaned for the rest of the time, and they gave me a job. And so I was willing to scrap and fight anybody. And so and I did, like, I could tell you like, it was so aggressive and so competitive, that you if you could have our friend in the kitchen, it was great, because then you could you could kind of team up on people. And that’s how competitive it was. You had to kind of mark your territory, like, you’re like a dog, you know, and if anybody came in your station, you’d have to, you know, fight back and bark back. And this is all well, you know, being kind of yelled at by Gordon, and by everybody else. So it was usually the most intense kind of situation I think I’d ever be in. It’s exhausting, but exhilarating. And yeah,

 

Scott D Clary  11:02

yeah. Yeah. So when so you so I mean, when, when you when you see the Gordon Ramsay style of leadership on on TV, and I think that that’s eye opening for a lot of people, because I don’t think a lot of people came up in their career with leaders and bosses like that. I mean, that’s a very high pressure environment. But it sounds like that that’s the that’s not just a facade, that’s the way the kitchen, that’s the way our kitchen is, and the highest, most prolific, you know, restaurants in the world. And that’s just something that you have to dive into headfirst and to deal with, to sort of carve out your spot in the industry. And if you can do that for you know, X period of time, and you have the passion to sort of persevere, that to sort of rises to the top.

 

Dale MacKay  11:48

Yeah, and especially in the time, I would say, you know, in the 2000s, and early kind of late 90s, to kind of mid 2000s, I would say it was probably the hardest core in all kitchens, there was, you know, it was modernized, but at the same time, there wasn’t many labor laws being touched or Kerlick in there, you, you can’t even like I was just in England for a couple of months. And they don’t work quietly the hours that we used to at the time, because, you know, the government has stepped in and realize that there’s been too many people obviously complaining about these kinds of things, but from the better question, a leadership standpoint, I needed that kind of leadership, you know, I kind of thrived in that situation, because I love discipline, and I love structure. And I was, you know, again, young and just needed some guidance and needed that. So, I always looked at it, like a bootcamp, there’s a reason why, you know, armies send people to bootcamp, it’s to get them in the right frame of mind and put them under pressure, and see how they can perform under pressure. And if you can perform your best well being under extreme pressure than I would think everything else. And you know, after that is going to be extremely easy. And I think there’s like there’s that in all walks of life, from musicians, to athletes, to to day traders to, you know, all those kinds of people that have to deal with that kind of pressure. And so I love that stuff. Like I when I’m, when I’m even nowadays, when you know, I have my bigger restaurant, and it’s a heating service, and you’ve got you know, a coax kind of going in, you kind of feel like almost like a captain of a ship, and you’re kind of pushing resources all around, and you’re kind of seeing where people are faltering and stuff. And so I love that kind of situation. And I love the intensity, especially when I was that young. Not everybody deals with it well, and it’s not for everybody, and I don’t even really think it’s it’s net totally necessary anymore. You know, I think there’s, there’s a mate some of the best kitchens, the world aren’t necessarily operating like that anymore. But it can’t be all sunshine as written, you know, it can’t be all like rub your back and say you’re you’re going to do better next time, because it’s not about that, you know, and when, when you’re trying to be the best when you are the best restaurant in the world. It’s it’s a defending game, it’s not even it’s one herb that’s off, you know, or one smudge on the plate can actually take you down a notch. And so you have, you know, people that don’t understand that type of intensity or that type of focus. They don’t, they’re not going to get it. But when you spend 18 hours a day doing something that you absolutely love, and somebody, some guy comes in and fucks it all up on the last minute. You know, there’s gotta be some some things to be said. Yeah,

 

Scott D Clary  14:15

that’s when that’s when there’s repercussions. That’s when you get that’s when you get one. Yeah, sure exists. And I guess for people that are listening that that don’t understand the world of Michelin star and don’t understand the level that you’re playing at. I guess it’d be good to sort of tee up what that means to draw a parallel draw comparison. maybe speak to how hard it is to get even one Michelin star and how that system works just to sort of share the level you’re playing at. And that’ll sort of give some context for the rest of the for the

 

Dale MacKay  14:44

rest. You know, chefs chefs live and die by the Michelin guard guide especially European chefs and specially fine dining. You know, it’s quite literally people have committed suicide. I can name you five chefs that have committed suicide in the last 20 years from Using a star, because once you get, you know, Marco Pierre White, who is a great chef and English chef, you know, when he was explained, you know, first, you know, your first two stars are it’s a, it’s, you can be creative and aggressive, and it’s an offense. But then after you get to the top, it’s pure defense. And so you’re, you’re just trying to hold on that status. And I mean, it literally is like winning an Oscar for, for for an actor, you know, it’s, it’s only the elite of the elite is going to ever hold that title. And it’s all encompassing. And again, it’s financially, reputation, pride, all of that to you know, and so it really is, it’s everything to them, I’m glad that I never really got that fever, to be honest with you. And being a Canadian chef. I understood it when I was in it. And I appreciated it. And I feel like I held myself and my team to the same standard when I first call back kinda when I was doing specifically fine dining. And I was, at the time I was the youngest grand chef in the world for a relay in chateau, which is a kind of a similar kind of thing, as is Michelin, but it’s, it’s specifically for the chef, not for the restaurant. So I was awarded grand chef at 27, which was a massive accomplishment for me, and that that was enough for me, but because they do an inspection thing, and that’s part of the Michelin thing is if you’ve ever watched, you know, the documentary boiling point to a lot of it is trying to figure out what these inspectors are coming in, you know, you’ve got a list of names, you’ve got a list of phone numbers, you have your staff checking every day back checking all these phone numbers. You you know you have it’s not just about you hoping you you have to focus that hard to try to make it happen. It’s it’s it’s beyond intense.

 

Scott D Clary  16:44

It is no I totally appreciate it. Because I mean, if you look at if you look at if you look at the the the level of scrutiny that restaurant, I think that it’s also not as prevalent North America, obviously as it is. Yeah, absolutely. But if you if you’ve ever been to a Michelin star restaurant, literally anywhere, it’s like the level that they compete. That is absurd. I mean, it extends far beyond just like the food that you eat at the presentation. I mean, it’s a service. It’s the entirety of these

 

Dale MacKay  17:14

the bathrooms, the her stools, everything. Yeah, yeah.

 

Scott D Clary  17:18

And absolutely

 

Dale MacKay  17:19

everything. Yeah. And it can all be taken away very, very quickly from one inspector. And that’s, and that’s why you have to treat every single person to that level. And, you know, you play little games, like when you think there’s an inspector in the room, you’ll start sending like you want to send Do you want to make sure that they have everything you want them to have. And so, you know, Gordon taught me, you taught me a lot about other little things. So like, you can’t treat them special. So you start treating everybody around them special. So they don’t realize so you send an extra course to everybody around, you do all those kind of little things. And you just kind of Yeah, it’s a whole playbook just to kind of get into that, that kind of graces

 

Scott D Clary  17:54

and, you know, working working in his restaurant and around Gordon, what did that teach you? And what did you take from that? For your own career? Your own restaurant? Let’s sort of walk through that. Because I mean, how long were you actually working in his restaurants? What before you started your your own thing?

 

Dale MacKay  18:09

I was with him for about seven years total. I was with him for just over three years. I don’t know about three years in England. I was with him two years in Japan and in two years in New York. So I managed to I think I opened up a restaurants for him total. When I got when I joined him I was at the perfect time kind of when he had one restaurant. And then from there kind of there was about eight of us that were kind of his core group that kind of grew and and, and shaped it. I’m sorry, what was your question? I sometimes rant in the night.

 

Scott D Clary  18:40

No, no, no, no, it’s I appreciate it. I appreciate the context. But it was the the lessons and I’m sorry, from working with him over that seven. Yeah.

 

Dale MacKay  18:48

For me, I would say focus and diligence. I’ve never I’ve never seen somebody so focused on on a specific goal or a number of goals and driven and he you could never there’s never an excuse. There’s no point have ever come up with an excuse that was good enough for him for anything. You know, there’s no excuse for anything, you know, when he can’t understand what I always respected about him is when he was yelling at you, he never really yelled like on television in the sense of just to yell to to make a show. He he couldn’t understand how the fuck you aren’t perfect. Why did you not take all those steps to make sure that you didn’t screw this up, and that I love I love that whole idea and concept of of every day thinking about all the little steps that you can take to to not let things happen. You know, it’s the complacency of people that just go into work or go into whatever and just kind of the day kind of goes on and if you do that things are gonna go wrong. But if you can kind of set your mind up every day to kind of eliminate steps and constantly I used to time myself doing everything, not because I was told to because I wanted to see how much faster or how much more efficient I could get. And that was Because from watching someone like Gordon, that was just so good at everything, he seemed in everything, I just turned everything into a competition. And he’s very much kind of I would say like that as well. And so I, I thrive to being around that. So, you know, focus and focus and no excuses. You know, it’s all on you, you take responsibility for everything.

 

Scott D Clary  20:19

I love that. And we’ll speak about how that sort of impacted what you’ve done with the grassroots Restaurant Group. But I want to also some things that have happened in your career, and also just general trends that I think you’d be good to comment on. So how do you feel about the trends of celebrity chefs? And, and chef competitions and building personal brands? And how, because that is relatively new in the industry, too.

 

Dale MacKay  20:45

Yeah, you know, I think it’s all positive, you know, I think there’s gonna be lots of chefs that kind of bitch about it, or say, or this and that, I mean, there’s absolutely chefs out there that have shows in that are have restaurants and have these big, you know, celebrity chef lives that really are very good chefs, there’s absolutely lots of them, you know, what I mean, there’s, there’s also lots of musicians that are very good. There’s also lots of, you know, you know, in any industry, but I think the positives much outweigh the negatives in the sense that we have platforms, social media has given us a platform television has given us a platform, we can possibly retire not poor and, and, and die exhausted, you know, and, you know, it’s not, it’s never really been a glamorous life, it’s one of those jobs that that kind of hooks you and that you love, and you kind of stick with it, you know, chefs in traditionally have stayed in the kitchen, tell their 60s 70s even especially French chefs and European chefs, it’s something you kind of, you just do forever. I don’t want to do that, you know, I don’t want to be in the kitchen at 55 at eight o’clock at night, I want to be at home enjoying, you know, my life and everything else. And

 

Scott D Clary  21:48

as anyone should be after giving so many years is absolutely, you know, you should aim.

 

Dale MacKay  21:52

Yeah, and so, from the celebrity side of things, I think it’s it, I think it’s only good for people, you know, if you watch a master chefs, kids, it’s a, it’s a great show, you see these kids, these kids have a crazy melon amount of knowledge, they’re there, they know more about cooking than their parents, they’re so impressive. And it’s because of celebrity chef, it’s because of the shows, it’s because of access this all this knowledge, they can go on YouTube, or they can go on Instagram, and watch people’s reels and how to make all these dishes and stuff. So I think it’s it is very positive. And it’s giving us a platform and the ability to make more money to be honest with you, like I would say that I you know, before the pandemic and when we I was doing a lot of events and different things, I would say that I it was always a strategic goal of mine to only you know, my income only about 40 to 50% of my income coming from the restaurants and my wage, and the rest should be divided diversified into other things outside of my outside the restaurants and whether that be still food related or not. So that was that was my goal. And I would, I wouldn’t be able to do that without being a celebrity chef, you know, without product endorsements, and doing all those kinds of things. So, and I actually really enjoyed that work, you know, I I’m the corporate chef for a grocery chain Co Op, I’m not sure if you’ve ever had them the way out east is about 265 locations. So, you know, I feel very lucky, there’s only you know, a few chefs in each country that are going to get one of those jobs because it’s for a mash, you know, a national grocery chain. So I developed food, I developed frozen food for them, I develop fresh fruit for them, I do recipes for them for their website. So that kind of work wasn’t around in the 80s and 90s, even in the 90s really and so and to me that that’s a huge amount of my income. And it also allows me to be in they wear my apron, they wear aprons with my name on it in the grocery stores, I do events for them when they open stores, they do all that kind of stuff and I think it’s the way chefs also look at it too just like any an athlete’s you know, you know, doing endorsements for whatever kind of company you know, I’m a I’m a I call myself a bit of a sellout and I’ll endorse most things as long as I like it and I think it’s okay, I’ll be nice if you believe it’s nothing I’ve done I’ve done commercials for AW, I’ve done you know things for blue cheese I’ve done it you know they’re they’re all things that I’m okay with and you know, I can use my voice and I can make it’s a lot easier for me to make $10,000 with with a brand than it is make it burgers, you know what I mean? And so from if you want to be a successful entrepreneur and celebrity chef or mostly an entrepreneur, then you have to kind of realize you got to it’s a lot easier making money renting a recipe than it is trying to cook for 50 people writes every night you know and make that same profit. So I celebrate that stuff.

 

Scott D Clary  24:39

I just want to take a second to thank the sponsor of today’s episode HubSpot. Now, companies are under pressure right now. pressure to get more leads close deals faster, get better insights to create the best experience for their customers. See, a CRM can help but not just any CRM, one that is easy to set up, intuitive to use and customizable to the way you do business. Now that’s where HubSpot comes in. HubSpot CRM is an easy for everyone to use on day one solution, it helps teams be more productive. You can drag and drop your way to attention grabbing emails and landing pages, you can set up marketing automation to give every contact the white glove treatment plus AI power tools like content assistant, mean less time spent on tedious manual tasks and more time for what matters. Your customers. HubSpot CRM has all the tools you need to wow prospects, lock in deals and improve customer service response times. Get started today for free@hubspot.com. I know I fully agree with you. I think that as as industries evolve and ways to make money evolve, I think that it’s it’s silly to not take advantage of them, especially if it’s like a net positive if you can teach more people if you can impact more people. Yeah. Because you have that celebrities that I mean, why why wouldn’t you really only you said you’re you’re raising, you’re raising now a nother generation of kids that are wildly more competent in the kitchen, than maybe some of their parents are, which is not really a bad thing. It’s a positive hobby, no.

 

Dale MacKay  26:04

And to reference to like the shows like when I when I being on Top Chef, which when I was on Top Chef Canada that was 12 years ago now. And so between Co Op than having my aprons and doing recipes and kids tasting the recipes that the parents are making for them, and then seeing and then kids, I have people coming up to me that are 22 now or 20 years old and saying, I watched you win Top Chef when I was 12 years old with my family, and it was amazing, and this and that kind of stuff. And so those shows have given me more relationships with people than any other than anything can I could have 10, the best restaurants in Canada, that’s not going to make that 20 year old. Remember watching me win that show and being emotional and following my journey through from week to week. And so you can’t, I’ve always said you can’t buy that kind of publicity, I could give a $2 million, I still couldn’t buy that because it’s a connection that they’re gonna have for the rest of their lives. And so when it comes to a birthday, or a special day or anything, they’re going to come to my restaurants because they have that connection with me from television, and from watching me be under pressure. And then also seeing the coop and seeing in there. So those things are actually much more beneficial to my actual businesses in the long run than then really almost anything else.

 

Scott D Clary  27:22

Now speaking about social media, because if you’re building a celebrity status, I mean, you’re using social media. But there’s other trends that where social media intersects with with culinary and I’m curious about where you see that because in the culinary industry, there’s a lot of obsession with Instagrammable food, does that take away from traditional techniques, traditional flavors, does that jeopardize what a chef would actually want to create, just to make something that looks appealing?

 

Dale MacKay  27:50

Yeah, I mean, I think it goes to, you know, what I was saying before, you know, a lot of there’s some of those people that have got 200,000 Or a million followers from doing Instagram food and that kind of stuff. And some of it, some of it is really nice, and it’s fun to watch. I don’t actually know how much those people actually make those dishes or not. But there are a huge amount of people online, including myself that like to watch those reels and actually, you know, and follow along. I don’t see them really doing any harm. You know, at the end of the day, are those recipes great and tried and tested, probably not. There. It’s more mostly for the gram. But I don’t really see it as a negative, I think more food is more food, it does definitely become harder for the good stuff to kind of punch out in front of the bad stuff. Because the fact there’s just so much I was on Instagram for 20 minutes today. And I I watched 30 reels from pianos, like who’s doing this, who’s doing it like and it seems like everybody, everybody’s doing it, you know. So I think it is a trend, I filmed a bunch that I have coming up to and it’s strategic more of a strategic way. And I’m doing some some partnership posts with with some some kind of bigger accounts and things like that. I like social media, but I don’t love it. I I’m a pretty outgoing person, but I don’t really I think my part of my problem is that I think that why do people care? I don’t think someone cares what I’m doing today, you know, and so I know you’re in your

 

Scott D Clary  29:14

own head, though, you know, in your own head. It’s a lot. Yeah, I know. And

 

Dale MacKay  29:19

it’s funny that way, you know, and I’m like, I’m doing this I’m like, I’m probably gonna post this and I’m like, someone doesn’t really give a shit what I’m doing, I’m getting you know, but maybe they do. Maybe I gotta get get a little bit more.

 

Scott D Clary  29:31

And then I guess last question that I’m curious about in terms of the evolution of the color, culinary industry, there’s different technologies that are used and are starting to be used like 3d printing SUID cooking, what is your opinion on that? Is that a positive or negative? Does that impact the industry? You know, I think

 

Dale MacKay  29:49

you know, evolution of anything is great to a point but you don’t want to lose sight especially with food. You don’t want to lose sight with what’s what’s what’s real and what what foods really about. And I think I As a chef, you I, at least I can speak for myself that you kind of go in arcs, and you kind of come back. And I think I keep referring to musicians and I’m thinking, you know, the same I think people are like that, you know, you have your period where you’re all about, you know, the top of the fine dining or this and that, but then, you know, you come around, and you kind of realize that food’s really more about, you know, flavor and soul and happiness and how it makes people feel and that kind of stuff. And I definitely learned that over the years, and I enjoy cooking much more cooking more casual food. And casual generally means being a bit more traditional in technique and that kind of stuff and staying away from, you know, I definitely don’t need to 3d print anything, you know, I, you know, I think we have amazing vegetables in Saskatchewan and amazing fruit and meat, and I don’t need to change that. I think that’s the way I go more towards now it’s more about just having great products and great farm things. And not doing that. But then to say subi has definitely changed the way that we can produce things, if you use it in the right way. You can, you can get ahead of things, you can change the texture of you know, you can take a short revenue and cook it for 60 hours and cut it like a steak but it’ll still be kind of like super, super tender, like a biracial rib. So there’s, there’s there when you use them in that kind of way. I think it’s fantastic, because it’s kind of opening up your minds to textures in different ways. But I think if you start 3d printing food that you don’t need to then maybe we’re just kind of being gluttonous,

 

Scott D Clary  31:31

and like almost commoditizing tradition to a point, but it’s not. I get where you’re coming from. Yeah. So I mean, if it’s for a net positive in the industry, if it’s just to reduce expenses, if it’s just to expedite if it’s just to make things cheaper, faster, quicker, that’s not necessarily the ethos of food. Yeah, and

 

Dale MacKay  31:48

there was a definitely a period of, I would say, Good five years kind of in before 2020, or I’d say kind of in the early 10s, that everything was being sweet and everything was being like I remember going into a kitchen, and whose kitchen anyway, the subi machine or what had gone down, they had no circulator, and which means and they and they were backpacking, everything from lamb to fish to beef to everything. And then they quickly realized that nobody in the kitchen know how to fucking cook meats like like they hadn’t, these cooks had been there for six, eight me months, or even two years, and there’s been no put a pen on roast that piece of lamb, cook it in some butter baste it rested to do all that because when you’re assuming everything, it’s basically you take it out, you put in there, the water, you take it out, and if you do sear it, it’s already cooked perfectly don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. And so it does, I think new techniques like that take away from the soul and the actual, you’re a cook, you need to cook you know, if you can’t cook a piece of meat, you’re not a chef, you know and so if you over utilize that you you do take away from your own trading and your own your own abilities. So I’m glad I grew up in that time period. I grew up when we weren’t doing any of that kind of stuff. It was just like, you know, when I was on the station at Gordon Ramsay’s, I mean, we’d have five different needs and four different birds on one station. And you’d have to cook all those at once while listening and being yelled at. So. You know, same goes back to the multitasking and under pressure. So

 

Scott D Clary  33:13

yeah, no. Okay, so let’s let’s speak about building a restaurant empire. So talk about the transition from and you were working in Ramsay’s restaurant for you said seven years, you opened up eight restaurants. When did grassroots Restaurant Group start? What was the impetus for that? What was the idea that you wanted to do this and I guess the thesis for what type of restaurant and then eventually restaurants you wanted to start.

 

Dale MacKay  33:42

So the first time I was I went back to Vancouver. And I was working for a chef named Daniel balut there. So I opened up two restaurants for him. There is an amazing chef out in New York, I in my opinion, at least the best chef in the world. And so we are running those two restaurants, and then those restaurants were going to be closed or ceased to exist. At a certain point. It was right when I was one winning Top Chef. And then I decided I was going to open my own restaurant because that was kind of the natural progression of you know, being a chef and doing all that to be an entrepreneur. So I opened up a restaurant called Rollins ensemble, which was in Vancouver. And it was the concept was essentially kind of trying to do fine dining but in a more casual way fine dining food but more kind of casual feeling and more kind of upscale in that sense, which was good and I was quite successful and we were making money we’re doing quite well. And then I decided to open I wanted to you know open up another restaurant pretty quickly after which was what much bigger casual restaurant was, was a mistake. Do you know the numbers the numbers didn’t work? I learned early on I’ve always been really lucky to have some good mentors and good accounting mentors. And I learnt really on if the numbers don’t work, then you don’t have a business and and I unfortunately you know One restaurant took down the other restaurant. And I would say that I did a very mature thing, which I’m quite still to this day quite proud of is that most chefs and most restaurants as you’ll, you’ll see, if they they’re in trouble, you’ll start seeing quality go down, you’ll start seeing changes in the service, they’ll start gene changing, this will stop paying their bills, try and save it, don’t try to save it. And realistically, if you’re if you’re smart, and you and you trust accounting, and you trust numbers, you know, six to eight months to a year out that you’re not going to make it unless you can make some some very big changes in the restaurant industry. That’s extremely hard. It takes months and months to change concepts or change, things like that. And the writing was definitely on the wall. So I chose to be very upfront, I shut down the restaurants very publicly, I said, these are the reasons why I got over ambitious, my rent is too high. These are these numbers don’t work. And so I shut down those restaurants very publicly about it. And I said, I’m going to, you know, choose to make a life decision. And I’ve been a single father, I hadn’t mentioned this that yet. I was a single father and my son since he was I guess, three and a half, four years old throughout my whole kind of career. And so he lived with me in Japan, him and his mom. And then from there, I had custody him pretty much right off for after that when he was about three and a half years old. So I wanted him to grow up in Saskatchewan like I did. But we were in Vancouver, and we were living downtown and Kitsilano. So I was choosing to shut down the restaurants. I said, Okay, well, this is a perfect time to move back. Go to Saskatchewan give my son you know, the upbringing, I think he deserves more, which is a safe place to jump on your bike, go down to the river, you know, kind of what I think made me the kind of person I am was was growing up there. So I wanted that for him. So I made the decision to go back there and open up a restaurant called Aiden kitchen bar, which is named after him. And, and with great success. And I you know, I I’ve been extremely lucky that I had a lot of people that were willing to move their entire lives to Saskatchewan with me with never even being there. My business partner, Christopher Cho, who’s one door down right now we’re in Mexico City together and now he’s been with me 15 years now. And he moved his life to Saskatchewan. And he’s he’s my business partner now. And I hired him as a food runner at lumir, actually. So we moved to Saskatchewan, we opened up Aiden kitchen bar, very successful, we’re one of the best restaurants in the country. And, you know, financially we did. You know, above above my best case scenario, which was, which was amazing, Saskatchewan was in a really good boom at the time, I managed to pay back the entire investment to my investors into, you know, the partners and stuff like that, I think within 16 months, which is quite unheard of, for, you know, I think we raised 1.2 million, which is incredible for a restaurant, and especially in a small town like that. And then from there, you know, we just kind of kept deciding to do new concepts. And you know, we opened up, you know, a little grace in the pray, which is a small Italian restaurant, like my business partner is Korean. And I have worked in Japan for a number of years. I love Japanese and Asian food in general. So then we opened up sticks and stones, which is an is a Kayo with sushi. So different concepts, you know, we don’t want to ever read, keep redoing what we’re doing. And then Regina is just two hours away. And I have family there. So we opened up two more there. And so it wasn’t, I didn’t necessarily say okay, we’re gonna open up five restaurants over 10 years. But whenever I saw there was an opportunity, and I felt like we could grow. I would, I would say that. I definitely struggled with overambition throughout my whole career, you know, and I think I’ve got that.

 

Scott D Clary  38:30

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Dale MacKay  41:48

under control the last couple of years. And I think ambition is an amazing thing to have. But I also think it can cloud your judgment sometimes because you think that you can just work harder, and it will just be better and it will work. That’s not the case. And I keep referring to numbers. And if the numbers don’t work, you don’t have a business, it doesn’t matter how passionate you or how much you want it or how much people tell you, it’s great. It doesn’t matter. None of those things really matter in the business sense of things. And so we even had a fail in there too. I had I opened up a pizza place that I thought was going to be amazing and that everyone was going to praise me for because we were using local flour, we’re doing all these things, and we’re making delivery pizza, but it was just better. But at the end of the day, you realize that people don’t want to pay $35 that you need to charge for that pizza that they could just go to tgase and get it for 18 or 12. You know, and so that concept didn’t work. And I again, same thing after eight months, I said okay, we’re gonna keep losing money here. So we might as well just cut our losses and be be upfront about it. You know, I’ve never, I honestly and I know this is cliche to say, but I honestly celebrate my losses way more than I celebrate my, my, my wins because my losses have always I’ve always been okay with with, with losing and or from time to time because it’s really kind of reflective of going like you blew it, you kind of you were thinking, you know, you really need to look at the overview here. Why are you doing this? Are you doing this for you? Are you doing this for to have one more restaurant? Or is this a financial thing? Is it you know, all those kinds of answers? So, I feel like I’m in the best place ever now. Or we are in the sense of our scope and our understanding of each restaurant. And each one has their own individual problems. So for me now it’s it’s, it’s more of a food’s easy. I always say cooking is easy. It really is. It’s it’s it’s especially for really well trained, but the food’s the easy part. It’s everything else that comes around in the restaurant industry. It’s and mostly people and, and these days, staff and people are the most challenging thing you could deal with. And I don’t think the hospitality is exclusive to that. That’s that’s just I think people in general right now, the pandemic really, I think changed people’s ideas and views on work and, and grinding it out and want. So we struggle we struggle now too. I think more now than we ever have to keep people employed and keep people motivated and keep people wanting to succeed. You know, I I just always wanted to succeed so bad, I don’t understand it when other people don’t. So it’s, you know, I’ve had to learn, I think biggest a single father to my son changed me a lot too and my son is very different than me like we’re so similar but he’s I’m a very intense person I’ve always quite into I don’t find myself that intense, but people find me intense. They’ve told me my entire life. But he’s a very calm and different kind of person. And so and he doesn’t deal well with like the Gordon Ramsay method is not going to work with him. You know, I need to support him and understand him and, and make sure that he has what he needs to succeed and me putting him on the spot is all constantly he’s not going to do that. And I’ve realized with him and with my staff that not Everybody wants what I want. And so you you have to kind of utilize people to the best of their abilities and be okay and also

 

Scott D Clary  45:08

work with who they work with who they are and how they best receive. You know, like, their, their guidance and their and how they best receive instruction. And, ya know, that’s a whole that’s a whole that’s a whole comic. Okay, we should we’ll, we’ll speak about that in a second. Because that’s a whole bunch of lessons in leadership and managing and, and dealing with brick and mortar and, you know, brick and mortar during COVID. There’s a, there’s a lot there. Before we completely pivot into those types of lessons, I want to just ask a few more business lessons from you building this out. So I mean, you raised money to the restaurants failed, you raised money again. So there’s, this is very, an a very expensive venture. I think that a lot of probably parallels and starting any business, right, starting a startup, you have to raise money. I think it’s interesting that after two restaurants failed, even though one was successful, and the second one sort of pulled the first successful one downs. People still want to raise money again. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I wish I was. Yeah, no,

 

Dale MacKay  46:11

that’s that’s absolutely valid, and obviously a concern. But I think I also think in going back to what I the way I shut it down, I think that there’s there’s a huge amount of i It was a strategic in my mind is like I knew I wasn’t done being an entrepreneur, I knew I wasn’t done opening restaurants and everything else. And so when I chose to shut down way before I believe anybody else, whatever most people would have, I think that was a large feather in my cap. And I think I actually gained a ton of respect in in my community in that sense that that I knew things weren’t going to work. And so I shut it down. And then I also took on all the debts I in that situation, I took on a tremendous amount of debt. I think when I moved back to Saskatchewan, I still I think I still had $260,000 worth of debt personally for it that I take it on. And so, yeah, it’s, you know, I’m always upfront with my investors, my main financial industry, you know, when I first met him, and when we sat down and stuff, and he’s like, Okay, well, you know, what, what do I get, when I when I come into the restaurant, instead of being nice, good service and good food, that’s it, like, like, there’s you don’t get anything you know, you don’t get, you’re not gonna get a discount, you’re not gonna get, I’m not going to kick people out of their chairs. When you arrive, none of that stuff. This is a business you’re in bed, you’re, you’re investing in a business to make money this so if you’re investing in a clothing store, or a tech company, or whatever else, you’re not walking in there and getting free shit. So you’re not going to it’s the same way that the restaurants and so and there’s a clay, well, when can you promise me I can have the money back or whatever, how long is going to take us I can’t promise you that this is this is a high risk investment. I’m going to tell you, I’m investing my money. And I’m going to show you and I’m going to show you financials every month, I’m going to do all that kind of stuff, like any good, you know, you know, entrepreneur would. But there’s no promises here like this. This is there’s no I’m not selling you a dream. You know, I’m trying to sell you a business. Whereas I think most restaurants and things like that you are selling a dream. You know, most restaurants don’t even have don’t even have a shareholders agreement. You know, like, they’re like, your people just give people money. And they’re like, Okay, well, here’s 100 grand and like, they don’t even have any real shares or documents or they’re not formally set up companies even really, they’re their companies, but they’re not. There’s no structure, they don’t have a shareholders agreement. They don’t have rules, they don’t have all that stuff. So it’s technically a quite a shady business generally. And so I learned from Gordon Ramsay’s group and from Daniel blooms group, I always push me again, I’m have no education. So when it comes to business, I learned everything from putting myself in the situation. So when we were opening up restaurants for Daniel for or for Gordon, whether I was I was invited or not, I would push myself in meetings. I remember Gordon even looking to go with the frick are you doing here and I said, I’m here, I’m just listening, you know, and for numerous meetings, whether I was invited or not, because I wanted to know how to set up a company I wanted to know, you know, how these bills were paid, or who was doing this or how payroll works. And even before I was really at that level, and so I was always interested in that and, and then again, I’ve had some good business mentors, but raising raising million dollars, after a couple of losses was stressful, and and I was so broke at the time, too. And me and my son were living in Saskatoon living in a rented place. And I used I used I use coupons for the first time in my life, you know, to buy pickles, we were eating grilled cheese, and I was buying pickles with coupons. And I never thought in my life I’d ever do that or need to do that. But well, I was trying to raise this 1.2 million and we managed to you know, I managed to find two really good investors and they brought other people into the mix. And I managed to kind of do that. And then from there each restaurant had less investors and now three of our places are just myself and and my business partner and one financial partner. So there’s three of us in the restaurants which I liked the best and that’s the way best way to do it. And I think being upfront with them. basters and constantly showing the numbers and constantly, you know, it gives them confidence and they don’t mess with you anymore. You know, I think if you if you don’t report and you don’t let people know going, then they’re going to want to know what’s going on and going to do it. So I think honesty is always the best policy in all respect, especially when it comes to business.

 

Scott D Clary  50:21

No, I appreciate agreed. And then the other thing that I wanted to understand is, from the lessons that you’ve learned with the two restaurants that were pulled down and went bankrupt, for lack, or didn’t work, for lack of a better term, what is the checklist that you look for when you’re going into something new? What’s the checklist of between the rent and the location and the foot traffic and the menu and the talent? And what is your list that you sort of check off when you look at something,

 

Dale MacKay  50:45

I mean, you mentioned a lot of them, I mean, location is a good one rent, I mean, the your your, your costs are the biggest thing I it’s, it’s tough. I mean, they’re, they’re two different things, if I was to walk in and take over a current restaurant, it’d be very different, you know, you can kind of see where they’re at, and kind of fix things. But when you’re opening up a restaurant from scratch, and you’re taking most restaurants fail the first year, whatever that that that scenario is or whatever, I firmly believe it’s because of the initial cost or opening costs. And that’s because you get this amount of money, and you go over budget by 40% 50%, six, sometimes 200% in restaurants. And that has to do with a lot of the time construction. And it has to do with plans, permits not getting approved by the city being behind three months, four months, having people on payroll already, those are the things that generally kill you and when you’re already behind. Especially if you’re a chef driven restaurant, it’s very hard to be creative, when you’ve got hundreds of people calling you for money and trying and you’re think you’re not gonna make payroll or think you’re not gonna make that. So that kind of business can go internally go south very quickly, right off the hop because the fact you’re under so much financial stress right away. And restaurants are interesting, because they’re being opened by people that are in hospitality, they don’t know what they’re doing, when it comes to design when it comes to construction, when it comes to timelines of of dealing with cities, and toilets, slope, for plumbing, all that kind of stuff that you learn. And so I’ve been lucky to learn that stuff. Through opening so many restaurants for so many other people. And being in designing meetings, I was in design meetings before I was even the head chef with with Gordon. And with Danielle, I would sit there and listen to designers and know the fact that you can get that same door handle for fucking 20% Less, that we’re not designing a home here we’re designing commercial restaurant, it needs to be good grade. But it doesn’t need to be that because the person holding it doesn’t care no. And so those things a designer can bankrupt you before you even open. And so I think those are the biggest kind of lessons when it comes to opening up a restaurant and staying open.

 

Scott D Clary  52:54

And then when you when you are now expanding your enterprise, you’re you’re looking to innovate, you’re looking to try new things. But how do you balance out when you open a new restaurant? How do you balance out innovation versus sticking with like the status quo and what customers already know. So when you bring a new product I think the restaurant is a product the food is a product Yeah. You want to innovate so you don’t you’re not just a copy paste of what else is out there. But being a copy paste of what else is out there means there’s there’s familiarity. Yep. How do you balance that?

 

Dale MacKay  53:24

You know, with different concepts. I would say. Marketing for me is a big thing. I’ve always done all of our own marketing, I would say like say Aiden, Caleb will start with eight is that I we did about 40 videos and this was I guess 1010 years ago now. We did a series of videos that were kind of sculpted around making Aiden a story rather than just a restaurant. We did you know I did a video on meat I did a video on fish I did it each member of staff that had moved there or that hired I did a video featuring them where they’re coming from Why are they here? What’s What are they most excited about the restaurant for is that they should could reprogram isn’t this and so we did that for four months leading into the restaurant and kind of building up that hype and making it so personable that you kind of felt like you had to come and involved in stuff. And we weren’t and the goal there was with Aiden was to do exactly what you said is kind of give them what they already knew. But we just wanted to make it a bit better. We weren’t trying to change them because we were I’m a hometown kid but I was coming back the Big Top Chef guy coming to the city you know I didn’t I didn’t want them to think oh we’re going to be stuffing you know fancy food on their face and stuff and so when like we opened you know we have burgers wings we have popcorn prawns we have all the things that ever all the other chains are people know but we just do them better and we make them in house. And so it was more about trying to kind of make sure that get that message across and make sure that people understood what we were in creating this kind of buzz like when you came in you felt already you’re a part of something so we do that with everything. Even like when we opened our Korean Japanese place, you know we actually got My business partner is mum to come over from Korea. And she spent like weeks with us making kimchi and doing all this, we filmed all that. And when we let people know what we’re doing this we’re doing it for the right reasons we’re doing all that kind of stuff. And so I think attaching yourself emotionally to people and getting giving them a story. And is is a big thing in our industry at least it’s it’s easy just to put up a you know, a menu and kind of thing you need to tell a story if you really want to kind of capture people, and especially, if you want to hit it hard off the start, you need to kind of create that buzz. And again, some people I think, too, you need to be able to try to do some of that yourself. Restaurants don’t make a lot we have our margins are so small. And so when you you can’t just hire a PR company and say, Okay, here’s $5,000 a month to do this, or, or plus that. You need to do a lot of that stuff yourself. Grassroots is the way I mean, you need to do it yourself and save that money because the numbers don’t work. Otherwise, you know.

 

Scott D Clary  55:55

And when you’re building out this, this one restaurant or this group of restaurants, how much you focus on competition versus how much you just focus on what you’re doing yourself.

 

Dale MacKay  56:05

Very little. But I think we’re a little bit more unique. And where we are, is that we don’t have a lot of competition in the sense of doing what we’re doing or our caliber we do now. I would say over the years, we’ve had a lot more great independent restaurants open up and stuff. But I don’t worry about too much what other people’s doing I’m, I don’t even follow chefs on Instagram, I don’t really you know, it’s not it’s the same thing as I don’t really read cookbooks, because they don’t really care. It doesn’t really change me or doesn’t change what I’m necessarily doing. I do love going out eating and trying new things going, Oh, I never really kind of thought that but from where we are, I don’t really think about it. But at the same time we don’t over saturate ourselves. And that’s why it made sure that we don’t redo the same thing in the same city. You know, we have kind of a French here, European, a Japanese, Korean and Italian and then the other say we have Japanese and Korean and French again. So we don’t want to keep doing the same thing. I would get very, very bored of that too. But and we want people to come back three times a week. We don’t want them to come back once a month or just on a birthday.

 

Scott D Clary  57:07

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Dale MacKay  59:44

I think my leadership has changed. I mean, it changed over the years and it’s evolved with anything from from obviously, being a chef in Vancouver doing say fine dining, and my leadership was, I would say more Gordon Ramsay style in the sense of like, shut the fuck up and do Just basically do exactly what I’m asking you to do and do it and there’s no, if ands, or buts. And if you don’t like it, there’s kind of a door. And that’s, I think, when you’re at a very specific height of your, you know, career or a certain place in a restaurant, you can get away with that, that’s kind of borrowed time, and it’s not real leadership, it’s essentially, you know, you’re doing whatever you’re, you’re just kind of, uh, you know, doing what you’re doing. But, again, going back to my son, you know, and learning and seeing people, I guess, for more, when you start doing more casual food, when I start doing more casual food, I couldn’t really, you can’t really keep that type of intensity going all the time, because it’s not that intense, and then you’re just an asshole. And that’s kind of what I, I kind of figured out that I was just kind of turning into an asshole, and I wasn’t that great of a leader anymore. You know, and, and so, I took that to heart. And I think what a big thing was that I, I always had people that stuck with me a very long time. And I think it’s because I generally would take an interest in their life, you know, I always always, even though I always encourage people to take time off. Like, if you want to, if you have a family thing, I’m going to make it work for you, if you want to take a holiday, I’m going to make it work for you. Because you need to have a life outside of these walls, because it’s only sustainable for a certain amount of period of time. These days, because I’m not the chef in any of my restaurants, my role really is a motivator. And some of that goes so I go around from restaurant to restaurant, checking with everybody from you know, and obviously knowing every single person’s name, which is not that difficult to happen with five restaurants, but you would be surprised, you know, knowing the dishwashers name knowing you know, everything checking the dishwasher, you know, making sure that they have what they need, you know, we’ve done every I’ve done everything from like, when we’ve had a dishwasher that’s down and out doing like a furniture drive where I go around and pick up a bunch of furniture and make sure that they have things for home and clothes for the kids and all those kind of little things that I think is maybe not necessarily a boss kind of thing. But it’s it’s building a culture within our restaurants to know that if shit goes wrong in your life, you have people that are there for you. And I think that is actually very important in the hospitality, hospitality industry. Maybe not so much in other industries. Because we have a lot of transient people in our in our industry and a lot of people that don’t necessarily have education, they don’t necessarily have things to fall back on. And it’s it’s, it’s easier to try to fix a problem that they’re having at home or in their life than then just leaving and trying to hire somebody else. I’ve found over the years, it’s easier to try to kind of nurture those relationships and try to make sure that you can set things up for them to for them to succeed is a lot easier than saying screw it, I’ll find somebody else. Because you you get those long lasting kind of relationships. I hired a guy one time worst interview I’ve ever had in my entire life. Like I’ve never, I partly hired him because it was so bad. He couldn’t even he wouldn’t look me in the eye. He was kind of like, oh, all over the place and, and I came downstairs and was like, Holy shit, I was there. And I said, I hired him. And they’re like, everyone was like, shocked. I was like, what, and he ended up being with us for eight years. He just finished with us, like six months ago. And he was a great employee. He came every single day. He wasn’t, he wasn’t naturally talented was everything. But he would work as as off you do as eight hours a day, and he would go home. And so I have over the years started to value that almost a lot more than that really talented person that was, you know, if you go yeah, you invest in people and generally. But that being said, you also set yourself up for a lot of disappointment, and especially in this industry, as well as that people do when you invest a ton of time and energy and everything in them. And then they necessarily leave without notice. Notice these days is not even a thing. I don’t know what it is like in other things, but people just don’t give notice anymore. They just don’t show up or they just say well, I’m not coming back. And, and that’s kind of thing. So yeah, I’ve kind of learned that if you can invest in people and stuff and try to create opportunities for them. And if they know that you actually are generally there for them in the corner. From from a personal side, then it definitely holds a lot of weight in in this industry. But from building a team standpoint, I just check in and make sure I My goal is with all my chefs, so I have five chefs, my goal is to make to take care of all the stuff that stops them from doing what they what they love in which is cooking. I try to make sure that they can spend as much time in the kitchen, they don’t have to deal with too much payroll or too much paperwork or too much everything else. I want them focusing on the cooks and focusing on the food and doing what they love and when they want to be an entrepreneur and grow from there. I’ll teach them or help them move up but yeah, I just want them to keep doing their job and don’t have to kind of worry about that and morale I honestly I feel like that’s kind of my my job now is kind of keeping people’s morale up and, and and then teaching them about the numbers. You know, you’ve got to have to come and tell them that that they’re not doing it right and then tell them how to do right and how to explain and then kind of and then prop them up. People I associate the kitchen and being a father so much is that especially a young cooker or in the middle of pressure, like you said, like, you’re in the middle of pressure, and you’re, you’re being a leader, anything as I find, you know, I tell people, I’m a great delegator, I’m probably better at delegating than anything you know, is that and it’s the follow up, or it’s super, it’s so it’s so important. And it’s, it’s, it’s a tool that you can really utilize. It’s not laziness, it’s controlling, or it’s a manager of getting everyone the best out of everyone and knowing what their limitations. So I would ask them to do something, and then I give them a couple of minutes, or whether a couple days, whatever to do the task that I follow up. Okay, you know, this is coming up, do you have this kind of done? Okay. And then so I usually give two to three follow ups, just like you would have your kid. And then so when the discipline does come, you’ve got those. And I also like, in my summer chefs laughing all the time, because I’ll look them right in the eyes. And like, yes, you’re agreeing with me, we’re having a conversation here. So there’s no way you’re going to not, when I come to two days later, remember when we talked about that, there’s no way you can say we didn’t talk about this, because we’re looking into each other’s eyes, I’m basically holding your hand going, this is what we’re going to do. And so I think when you give people the opportunity to do well, and you know, it’s hard, a lot harder when you say you do this, and you show up and you start yelling, why it’s not done, and you need to follow up, and you need to give people structure. And so I find structure is is a big thing, and systems and rules and all those kinds of things, you need to put those in place for people to grow.

 

Scott D Clary  1:06:29

And you’re also you know, you provide a lot of support, you remove the blockers, you remove excuses, you remove any reasons as to why they couldn’t exactly there’s there’s zero excuse, but that’s your job to it’s like it wouldn’t be fair for you to impose all these all these things onto them if you didn’t give them the best environment,

 

Dale MacKay  1:06:47

either. That’s why much. Good idea. Yeah.

 

Scott D Clary  1:06:51

No, no, no. You’re good. You’re good. And I’m curious, like, through I mean, we’ve gone through COVID, we’re now going through recession, inflation. How does that impact the people that you work with? How does that impact your restaurants, you even spoke about mentality towards work towards grinding it out. So that’s one thing. But also, for a while the restaurant probably couldn’t have people working inside for a period of time, right. So that impacts your bottom line. I don’t know if you furloughed or not. But if you lay people off, but then also now we’re going right into, we’re going right into people think we’re going into a recession, I mean, in expensive cities is probably very hard with with minimum wage. So this all impacts you, it’s all impacts the people that you’re working with. So walk me through how you’ve managed some of this.

 

Dale MacKay  1:07:40

Slowly, you know, we when COVID hits we were on we were on a really good trajectory, when COVID hits and I spent me my partner, I’d spent kind of six months prior it was almost like we somehow knew that this was kind of kind of coming, but it was more just like I I got really pissed off one day, because numbers just weren’t, again, weren’t working or things just didn’t seem that good. So I went on a tear for about six months, me and my business partner renegotiating everything, from POS stuff, to credit card fees to everything like linen, we went through every single cost item and we got it to dialed in as much as possible. And then COVID had boom, like, right kind of there. And then I feel like if we wouldn’t have done that, that massive house cleaning, we would have been a lot more in a lot worse of a situation. But because we did that, and we were really, really quite tight, you know, we had a good opportunity to and all of our restaurants came out fine. And you know, we obviously took the subsidies and did all the programs and all that kind of stuff, which you know, if you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be alive anyway. Or you wouldn’t be in business. I mean, so, for us, you know, it was about keeping our staff and keeping people employed and trying to just minimize our hurt to get through it. And that’s what I think everyone was doing for the early part. But then once we realized this is a long term thing, then we had to kind of start kind of changing kind of our ideas and kind of and stuff and finding other ways to cut costs and make money. It’s the worst case scenario to be honest with you like a pandemic, it for the hospitality industry, I would say a hospitality got hit, the hardest hit always gets hit the hardest. Soon as the recession hits, the first thing you do is stop going out for dinner. You know, it’s it’s an easy thing to cut, you can make dinner, you can buy cheaper stuff, you can do whatever, when a pandemic hits, you know, most businesses could still have some businesses thrived. I have friends that did way better in the pandemic than they’ve ever done. But, you know, nickel and diming burgers and doing all these backups and doing all these things. And you know, everyone’s like, Oh, why don’t you do online cooking class once you do this and that and you pack up these things or order boxes where people can make food at home and stuff like that. You’re like, it’s just been it honestly, it’s just a bunch of busy work that doesn’t make money, you know, and so I did all the costing and development analysis and we chose not to do any of that stuff and I and the people that I started doing it were losing their money. I chose from a personal standpoint To use, I use the pandemic time better than I could have ever imagined I became healthier, happier. I did a lot of, you know, mental kind of growth, I became a triathlete. I trained 1516 hours a week. Now, you know, I did you know, I wanted to use my time use this time, it was almost like a gift of when do you ever get to kind of really reset and really look at everything, and that’s what we did. So I looked at that as a very positive period. Our cities specifically, or our restaurants in our cities really rely on business tourism. Saskatchewan, like I love Saskatchewan, we ever like this, but nobody’s coming for holiday in Saskatoon, you know, I mean, it’s very rare. You know, like, it’s like, I always say, people who have never been to Saskatchewan, like, yeah, generally, if someone gets married or dies, it’s usually when you come if you don’t, from there. And so we need people coming in for potash and for oil and for gas and for agriculture, we need those people coming in. Because from Monday to Thursday, you know, local is good, but it’s not going to it’s not going to get me 150 People in one restaurant and 60 in the night, you know, I can’t fill all my restaurants on on regular Wednesday business. I need people from Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton coming in, they’re gonna have a bottle of wine and have three or four courses. And so that is starting to come back. And so we’re we’re just adjusting, renegotiating leases, I renegotiated numerous of our leases to two percentage rent, you know, my you may made the, you know, the pitches like you can either have me as a long term tenant, or I can be out of here in a year because I’m not gonna be able to pay your bills. Or you

 

Scott D Clary  1:11:39

by the way, I wanted to tell you like, none of this is meant to be elegant. It’s just meant to be real. Yes, that’s really what I know that this is a very difficult, but you’re in hospitality. And it’s interesting how people navigate Yeah, even though it’s not fun.

 

Dale MacKay  1:11:51

No, it’s, it’s terrible. It’s terrible. And when you’re standing there, and you’re nickel, and diming, and you’re, and the worst bit about all this, all of our costs are going are going skyrocketing. During all this time to like all of our food costs, our liquor cost, our labor cost our major wages going up. People are choosing to be on top of government programs, rather than come to work even as well, especially when we’re first coming back. And then again, to go back to our restaurants, we’re full service restaurants, like we’re concept restaurants, when you come to us, you’re coming because you get greeted a certain way, because we have nice bathrooms because we have great food. So when you can only Well, you know, we’re at a point where at some times we can only see 25 to 50% of the restaurant, do you really want to come and pay $48 for a beautiful steak and sit in and have mostly empty room with no ambiance going everyone wearing masks and cleaning everything. It’s not a vibe, it’s it’s a vibe, but it’s not a vibe you want and it’s not a vibe you want to come in and have and so we struggle to try to create that ambiance still. So it was very challenging, very, very, very challenging period. And we definitely lost a lot of people in the industry.

 

Scott D Clary  1:13:01

No, do you think that? Do you think that going forward, hospitality will change? Like, do you? Are you going to structure your businesses and your restaurants different going forward? Or? Or is it going to slowly morph back into what it used to be?

 

Dale MacKay  1:13:14

Um, I think we’re always I think we’re always going to be more efficient because of because of it, I think you know, be we’ve we’ve been forced to look at the numbers more often and all the numbers and costs and, and I think to the only very only positive I think that’s has come out of this is the fact that everyone with the inflation and everything going up so much and Cost of Goods going up. This is the first time in I think history that I’ve ever been the industry that actual the general public has realized that how much more everything costs. And so we can you know, when we raise the menus, you generally are getting a bit more supportive raising the menu prices, rather than being you know, $1 more for chicken wings, or whatever it is, I can go make these at home and then you’re like, we’ll go make it at home. But this is just what it costs now. Like it for you to go buy a stake in the grocery store a decent steak, it’s going to cost you $8 $9 to $20 for a steak, whatever cost that is, but it’s the same as a restaurant. So I think people are starting to understand a little bit more of the cost. We just have to keep raising our prices and that’s I’ve raised my prices more in the last 12 months and I’ve ever had in my whole career like every month basically having to go up because the number at the end of the day, if the numbers don’t worry, you can say oh, people are gonna stop coming but if they start it doesn’t really matter. You if you keep serving food you’re breaking even or losing on then you might as well have less guests and they can still

 

Scott D Clary  1:14:34

just not come anyway. So you got it. Yeah, yeah. So

 

Dale MacKay  1:14:37

but we’re we’re happy you know, we’re optimistic of this year. We still did Okay, last year, and I think this year is going to be different caterings have come back which is a big part of our you know, one of our revenue streams is weddings, corporate events, all that kind of stuff. Whereas, you know, for two and a half years, no company was willing or wanting to do anything like that. Marriages you know, all the all the weddings got scaled. down are doing different stuff. And so we see that business coming back, thankfully, because that’s, you know, it’s a lot of our bread and butter.

 

Scott D Clary  1:15:08

If you had to pick one lesson that you’ve learned over your entire career and tell it to your younger self, what would that lesson be? Expand food, restaurant business, anything?

 

Dale MacKay  1:15:19

I think the message I always tell myself, I got to ask the question, if you were, if you were a book, what would the title be? And iceage shut up and listen, you know, is probably is a good message. I think for any entrepreneur, sometimes I think I mentioned ambition can kind of can kind of get in your way. But a lesson that I feel like I learned early on, and I stick to all the time, this just is numbers don’t lie. You know, you have to as much as you want something, if it’s not working. Financially, it’s not going to be it’s not going to be it’s not a business. It’s it’s it’s a pet project, or it’s something that’s just going to keep sucking up money. So I think you have to be realistic and be mature enough to also just admit when you’re wrong. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. You know, I get taught that all the time from from my cooks, for my staff from other mentors and stuff. You know, I think there’s great power in admitting we’re wrong and admitting that you need to learn some more stuff. So

 

Scott D Clary  1:16:16

no, very good. Okay. So I’m going to, I’m going to close this out and get some places, some links and some socials. But before I pivot, was there anything that you wanted to speak about Teach over to the audience, anything that’s top of mind, either, it could be lessons for young entrepreneurs, it could be where you want to go in the future goals that you want to set. So floor is yours. So just take a second close it out. And then I’ll do like a couple last questions.

 

Dale MacKay  1:16:44

Sure. Yeah, I didn’t, I guess I didn’t really think about a closing thing. But I from just from my standpoint, I don’t have from my standpoint is you know, I think it is, since seems so it’s such a cliche these days, but I honestly balanced I always make fun of the whole balance thing. But as I’ve gotten older, I need I really need to have balance, and I really need to have other things outside of work. You know, I need to have, like, you know, before we did this, I ran you know, I ran 15 kilometers you know, I if I there’s that makes me more happy than almost anything because I feel I just feel healthy. I feel happy. I want it makes me want to get out of bed and makes me want to go so I think you have to have other outlets you have to be you know, focused on what you’re doing. But you also need to have outlets and you also have to have some some happiness in your life. It can all be in I guess maybe my phone Yeah, so my my side is I came from again, such an aggressive, like it was it the more miserable you were, it was almost like the the better chef you were, it was like more it was almost like badges of honor. And I’m like, I think it’s pretty good to smile. It’s being mad all the time is exhausting. So I kind of celebrate just being happy. And kind of and love the people you work with, you know, they’re as an entrepreneur, you know, you have to, you have to keep them accountable. But at the same time, you’ve got to create a place where they want to be and they’re coming. They’re getting out of bed every morning for you and for your business. So appreciate that. Yeah.

 

Scott D Clary  1:18:18

No, that’s very good. If people want to connect with you learn more about your restaurants go visit your restaurant if they’re, if they’re up in Canada right now. Website social, where should they go?

 

Dale MacKay  1:18:29

Yeah, I’m on my Instagram is at chef Dale McKay. Sorry, at chef Dale McKay. And then grassroots restaurant group.com.

 

Scott D Clary  1:18:38

Okay. And then I asked this question to everyone to close this out. So over the course of you know, you’ve had an incredible career, you’ve worked with some of the best chefs in the world. You’ve built your own empire of restaurants after all of this and you’ve alluded to it before but what does success mean to you now?

 

Dale MacKay  1:19:00

I I don’t want I would say financially but but financial, I think I think when you be able to work less and it’s been a success for me, you know, being able to have the ability to work eight hours a day and really use those eight hours to do better than working 16 And being exhausted all the time. And I think you can only get that with with somewhat financial success and or at least strength or stability. Consistency. Yeah, would be this. Yeah, it will be

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