Ten years is a long time in the life of any business, but especially in the ultra-competitive foodservice industry.
Leaside’s own Andy Elder will celebrate the 10th anniversary of his store, gourmet meat shop Grilltime, on Laird Drive, this September. His start in the food industry was through a Ryerson diploma in hospitality and tourism in the 1980s. He well remembers being told that “with the advent of computers, our lives will be so much simpler, and there will be lots of leisure time.”
So, being in the hospitality industry made sense. Initially, he worked for the big restaurant chains, aspiring to be in management operations with multi-unit responsibilities. He succeeded and was a VP for several major chains – until 2008, when he decided to act on the entrepreneurial ambitions that had been “just in the back of my mind.” He knew he didn’t want to own a restaurant with the long hours and gruelling work, but he did want to sell premium quality fresh product, and originally had the thought that he might develop a business that was franchisable. That hasn’t happened – yet. But Grilltime has been a sizzling success since it opened its doors.
When customers enter the building, the first thing they see is the island grill in the middle of the store, usually presided over by Peter Ramirez, who has worked with Andy for nine years and who has just signed on as a business partner for the business.
Who would have known that markets would crash around the world just when he was starting out on his own? As Andy says, “I didn’t put THAT in my business plan.” But the business did better than survive, it grew.
This entrepreneur also believes in being a strong advocate for local and community businesses and endeavours. As he says, “having fun, and using what you’ve got to support the community.”
Andy Elder is a caring man. Several years ago, he was helping out at a charity fundraiser on behalf of Scugog Camp and wanted to learn more about the camp, which “addresses the needs of those affected by poverty and other barriers.” He ended up going to the camp, bringing all the ingredients for a special dinner, and with other volunteers, preparing the meal in a week when there were moms there with their children. It gave him such a feeling of fulfillment to be able to help in a meaningful way. By the time he was finished, he was drained physically and emotionally, but very, very happy. And this was not just a one-shot deal.
He continues to seek opportunities to be different. In addition to the store, he offers private catering and participates in a huge variety of fundraising events. His most recent was Councillor Jon Burnside’s fundraiser, where he and his crew fed 200 people in 45 minutes – and “were scrambling to scramble the eggs.” A memorable earlier one was catering the gala for the Leaside 100 event. And the list goes on.
Andy admits there are real challenges in owning a small business. There’s always the need to be competitive, but offsetting that is “the validation of taking the risk and working for myself.” Happy 10th, Andy! Watch for his big party in the fall.