Feature: A Recipe for Success
Whole Person Stories
By Frédéric Morin (Parent '26)
Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2022 edition of the Loyola Today
We are beyond used of seeing star chefs flipping their pans on TV, shouting at unassuming apprentices, or trying out every morsel of every animal, all for the enjoyment of millions of viewers.
The restaurant world changes constantly, driven to reinvent itself every time a new ‘it’ ingredient hits the scene; whenever a stream of nutritional dogmas swings around. But never a change of such magnitude as the recent pandemic that challenged every aspect of a restaurant’s life. Yet behind every black thunderous cloud, there always is a shred of a silver lining. It also brought to attention the monumental administrative work involved in running the restaurant, and that’s in what we call ordinary times. The pressure of reinventing every aspect of itself, whether retaining staff and providing guidance in navigating the tortuous path of employment insurance labyrinth, creating a new business takeout model, maintaining healthy bank balances in prevision of the unforeseeable and possibly dour years to come was the stuff the Greek heroic tales.
Allison Cunningham, mother of Loyola student, Henry ‘26, is a founding partner in the Joe Beef restaurant group, that’s four restaurants, a grocery line and real estate management company.
Joe Beef, founded 16 years ago along with her now husband, Fred Morin, and partner at the time, David McMillan, was by all standards tiny. It came about very naturally as she previously worked in big and boisterous restaurants and the desire to work small and be part of every step was part of the Joe Beef script from its birth.
Allison, obtained a Master’s in Consumer Economics from the University of Guelph, a degree essentially financed by working in restaurants, “the other university” as she called it. At the time, she never imagined taking a lifelong plunge into the hospitality business.
The initial plan was very loosely scripted; “Early on when I was working on the floor as a server, it wasn’t yet clear to me how my role in the business would evolve over time. A lot of colleagues struggle with the notion of growing in this industry. This is particularly a factor for women as the compromise of having children and working late nights can be a challenge”. As the initial roles became clearer, she fell naturally into the admin position noting that even if the link between her current role as controller might seem an easy link with her academic field, it’s not that well-defined. “ I perhaps credit the discipline for a comfort working with numbers and the overall organization necessary to pursue a Master’s in general, not specifically to economics.”
The recent pandemic has seen a lot of closures in this industry, as her husband and partner Fred Morin put it, ”A lot of very creative and tasty restaurants were mowed down by the impossible task of dealing with the different echelons of government.” Adding, “Maybe her ability to tame the complexity, and persist was really key here.”
It’s definitely too early to toss the plexiglass dividers and masks but we have a different view of the restaurant industry after this ordeal, an industry that relies on its less highlighted but crucial actors such as Allison Cunningham.
|Allison Cunningham (Parent '26)
Allison Cunningham is co-founder and co-owner of four renowned restaurants in Montréal : Joe Beef, Liverpool House, Vin Papillon and McKiernan. She holds a Masters of Consumer Economics from the University of Guelph and worked from a young age in the service industry, working her way from hostess to restauranteur. She currently manages the business administration angle and is always looking to expand to new interesting spots in the city.
Photo credit(s): Courtesy Joe Beef
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