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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Some advice on maintaining productivity

Productivity is one of the most important things an entrepreneur can have on their side.  We all seem to manage our own productivity in our own ways; often in very different ways.  To remain focused and productive I use five specific tools/methods that have proven very useful to me.

To begin, I’m a planner.  If I don’t make a plan then next to nothing gets done.  Every evening I make a plan for the following day.  I consider what needs to get done, set out a time line and work backwards in order to make enough time to realistically check items off of my to do list.  As an entrepreneur, I do not have a routine as every day is different than the one before it; planning will make the chaos more manageable.

I write lists.  My life is too full to remember everything that needs doing.  Whenever something comes up, my phone comes out and I add it to the list.  Also, I prioritize my lists so that the most pertinent tasks are at the top of the pile and nothing important gets lost in the fold.

Knowing that I can’t do everything by myself vastly increases my productivity.  I have competent people who I can give tasks to; thus, multiple tasks can be accomplished simultaneously.  The hardest things for me to let go of were some of my daily responsibilities because I believed that no one could do them as well as I could.  No one is that infallible, not even me.  Getting rid of the repetitive daily responsibilities has freed up more of my time to do things that should really only be done by me.

Always make time to do something that you enjoy that is not work related.  If you don’t do this, you will get burnt out and then you are useless.  Go out to dinner with a friend, play poker, paint, write a book, do whatever it is that helps you unwind.  You are not a machine, despite your wish to be at times.

Don’t drink in the middle of the day.  This took years for me to learn.  Lunch meetings can usually include an offer of wine or beer from our hosts.  I know that, if I have one glass of wine in the afternoon, my productivity will plummet for the remainder of the day.  Drink water or something beautifully caffeinated to keep your focus and energy up.

Maintaining productivity as an entrepreneur will keep your company moving like a well-oiled machine.  Be sure to plan out your days, make lists to keep track of what needs to get done and use employees efficiently to take some responsibilities away from you.  Don’t forget to enjoy life a little, even when “there’s too much to do”.  If you have a long day ahead of you then think about denying yourself that cold beer that you so desperately want to consume over lunch.

Thanks to kabbage for encouraging me to think more about my management style and how I stay productive day to day.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Parking Rant

I take issue with parking in this city; more specifically, parking tickets.  I am the type of person who accumulates tickets over the year and then pays them all at once every December.  Yes, it adds up.  Because of my methods I have quickly come to realize a major issue in our parking enforcement in Hamilton. 

I live near St. Joseph’s Hospital in the Corktown area, and if you have ever parked around there you know very well that you will have a parking ticket if you are more than five minutes late back to your car.  The same goes for the area around McMaster University and Hospital, as well as around any major educational or medical centres in Hamilton.  I’m not writing to complain about the city’s efficiency in giving tickets in these areas but, rather, the absolute bias towards being so absolute in these areas, but the complete disregard of other relevant areas.

If you are not aware of the Locke St. Area, you should become so.  It is a beautiful street full of coffee shops, restaurants and high-end shops.  I am there between three and five times a week from one to four hours depending on the day.  The reason I am outlining my frequency and length of time on this street is because I need you to have an understanding of how much time in a given week my car sits on that street without having a paid parking pass in my window.  I have not paid for parking on that street since they put meters on it. I have not been ticketed.

While we are on the topic of streets that never get ticketed, let’s take a look at Ancaster.  If you are not familiar with Wilson Street, it is another lovely place to go and eat in a nice restaurant or shop in a very high-end store.  It is known for its wealthy inhabitants.  I challenge you to get a ticket in Ancaster; seriously, try it.

My issue here is that our city very diligently fines people who are trying to go to school or have an appointment that runs longer than expected at s hospital, among other reasons.  A few blocks away on a street that caters to leisure time, shopping and dining, there is not an enforcement officer in sight.  People who shop on Locke can afford the tickets; give them to us.  It’s not right to ticket so aggressively in certain areas and completely disregard others.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

#HamOnt #RestaurantScene

               Everyone talks about how Hamilton’s food scene is finally up and coming.  Sure, the restaurant scene in this city is certainly evolving, but let’s not forget about the owners who have endeavoured in this city to provide its residents with delicious fare over the years. Read on to discover the past, present and future state of food in Hamilton as it looks right now.
The culinary trends in this city right now are interesting and new and should be talked about and celebrated as much as they are but let’s pay homage to those who have been around through thick and thin.  Though the list is largely composed of ethnic restaurants, they have certainly kept our mouths happy for many years.  I am sure that if you were born in Hamilton then you have certainly frequented some of our old classics: Lo Presti’s (high-end classic continental), Bronzies (casual Italian), Ventura’s (Portuguese), Black Forest Inn (casual German), Wild Orchid (Portuguese), Gate of India (you guessed it, Indian), Shakespeare’s (high-end steakhouse) and many others.  These establishments are just that: established.  Many of them have been a part of our restaurant scene for over twenty years and show no signs of decline despite the fact that it has the same feel when you walk in that it would have when it opened years ago as many have maintained most of their design and (often times) original staff.
Also on this list of notable long time eateries are those who constantly update their menus and their d├ęcor to keep up with the ever-changing needs of their patrons.  This list includes but is not limited to the following: La Cantina (Italian), La Piazza (Italian), The Old Mill (Classic Fine Dining), and The Rousseau House (Classic Fine Dining).  The latter two I mention despite the fact that they are in Ancaster because they have always been great places for Hamiltonians to go to for special occasions like Mother’s Day, Anniversaries, any sort of church celebration and any other time we feel like treating ourselves.  If you haven’t been to these restaurants in the last couple of years then you should as they have done a good job of updating their dining rooms as well as their food.
This, of course, brings us to the new additions to the city in the recent past.  I don’t have the word count to talk about all of them but I will mention those that have been noteworthy to me.  Here they are in (what I recall to be) the order that they opened: Jack and Lois (sandwiches), Bread Bar (casual farm to table), Chuck’s Burger Bar (tasty burger joint), The Ship (seafood Influenced pub food), Rapscallion (nose to tail), Culantro (Peruvian), Sarcoa (classic fine dining), McCartney and Son (salads and sandwiches), Burnt Tongue (soup), Two Black Sheep (oyster and charcuterie cocktail bar) and Aberdeen Tavern (neighbourhood restaurant).  All of these recent additions to Hamilton standout in their own way and are well worth adding to your list of places you have been to.
This leaves me with yet another list; the list of the up and coming. Most people have heard heard of the Gorilla Cheese food truck.  Well, owner Graeme Smith is now opening a brick and mortar grilled cheese restaurant at 1216 King St. E. near Gage Park.  That is expected in July.  Chris Preston, the creator of Chuck’s Burger Bar will be bringing you two new places to bring your mouth happiness.  The first will be the second edition of his popular burger joint on King William in the new Empire Times building (which is bloody gorgeous by the way); the second project is a cheese based restaurant on King St. near Hess village that will focus on grilled cheese and mac & cheese.  Both of these locations will open this summer.  I have to mention the elusive Lister Chophouse that has been “opening soon” for almost a year.  I would kill for a good steakhouse downtown but I have heard rumors that it may never open; that place seems cursed so far.  There is also talk of the Rapscallion/Two Black Sheep team opening a taco place on James North this year (my fingers are crossed not only because of my direct vested interest in the project but also because I really love tacos).
So what does one talk about after one has discussed what is soon to open in this city?  Well this girl tells you about the things that are buzzing among restaurant owners and what they want to think about maybe opening.  The “it” thing that is being thrown around right now within the industry is the brew pub concept.  Seriously.  I have heard about four or five restaurant and bar owners tell me that they hope to open a brew pub.  Will it happen?  Who knows?  I don’t predict the future; I just report the gossip on the metaphoric street.  Watch out for anyone recruiting brew masters is all I will say.
Overall, I would like to say how happy I am to watch this city evolve on every front.  My hope is that our food scene will continue to grow until it reaches a superior status amongst foodies like that of Montreal or Chicago.  We have everything they have with the added benefit of affordable leases (for now) and a population that is just waiting to be impressed. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

On Food Trucks

The concept of restaurants is ever-evolving.  For one, they are no longer confined to brick and mortar establishments. The food truck is not new but their trending popularity certainly is.  Ten years ago, most people would never have imagined the creative gourmet options they would be able to get from a food truck; something I remember, from childhood, presented on beaches and in parking lots serving up hotdogs, hamburgers and fries. To say that food trucks have come a long way would be equally understated as it would be punny.

The scene in Hamilton has grown exponentially over the last few years.  There are now common areas in this city where the food trucks unite and offer a place for people to go to taste all there is to offer.  The camaraderie among these trucks is admirable and I often wish that restaurants could be the same way.  They have certainly added to the progress of food culture in the City.

Graeme Smith, owner of the very popular food truck Gorilla Cheese, says, “I believe that food trucks can take some credit for the recent growth of food culture in the Hamilton. Since we started 3 years ago, Hamilton now has more than a dozen food trucks roaming the city, and a steady influx of new high-quality and independently-owned restaurants popping up all the time. It's contributed to a new-found excitement for food in the city, in which the best establishments will flourish and the not-so-bests are forced to improve their game.”  

In 2012, city council was debating whether or not food trucks could continue to operate as they had been as there weren’t many rules and regulations in place at the time to govern them. When this surfaced, many restaurant owners spoke out vehemently against them. There were also those of us who were happy to support them.  The dividing stance was that one side believed they would steal business away from brick and mortar restaurants without paying their fair share of taxes and expenses; the other side felt that food trucks added to the city and didn’t pose any threat whatsoever.  In the end, Hamilton became one of the first cities in Canada to permit food trucks to operate within reasonable parameters, allowing their owners to make a proper living.

The major issue with these businesses is that we live in Canada.  Personally, I would never get in line at a food truck in the winter as I like to be warm whilst eating.  Comparatively, I feel unbelievably sorry for them in the heat of our summers as they sweat over deep frying food in a metal box with the sun pounding down on it.  So kudos to those ambitious food truck owners who have the passion to fight the elements (including those on city council).

Today, there is incredible variety among the types of food you can acquire from a food truck: vegan food (Karma Charmealeon), authentic southern BBQ (Southern Smoke), high quality coffee (Detour), high-end chef-driven options (El Vagamondo Gastromondo), schnitzels (Dobra Jesti), smoked meats (Caplansky’s), grilled cheese (Gorilla Cheese), and so much more.  When they all gather at locations like the corner of Queen and Main (Savoury Saturdays) or at Longwood and Aberdeen (Food Truck Alley) it is a great opportunity to test out everything there is to offer from these travelling kitchens.

I will leave you with some eating suggestions as two prominent food truck insiders have shared with me their favourite meals from the Hamilton food truck scene:

Dobro Jesti – Za Razor (Pork Schnitzel with and marinara sauce and mozzarella)

Johnny Blonde - Spicy jerk chicken on homemade flatbread w/ apple, cabbage, cucumber and sweet carrot slaw in honey Dijon vinaigrette

Southern Smoke Truck – Smoked Ribs with homemade smoked beans and sassy slaw
Frankie Fettucine – Osso Bucco & Gnocchi poutine

Gorilla Cheese – The French Onion grilled cheese, with caramelized onions, crispy onion bits and gruyere on Cake & Loaf Cheddar/Onion/Beer Bread.

Dirty South-Dirty Southern Love-This is southern fried chicken in Louisiana hot sauce layered between 3 buttermilk waffles, candied bacon, arugula and house made ranch sauce.

Karma ChaMEALeon- Jamaican Jerk Taco, the right amount of heat with no meat. 

Nudulz-2 Alarm Coconut Curry over Orzo, curry is perfectly spicy and the chicken melts in your mouth.

The Salted Pig, the bacon candy is amazing.

 Food Truck Alley

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Moving forward

I have had the privilege of travelling the world and experiencing distinctive cities in all their uniqueness and, when I long for home, I am fortunate to come back to Hamilton.  I find this city to be the perfect combination of what I love so much in other cities; there is, of course, some exception. 

We have the inimitable escarpment, gorgeous waterfront (the nice part), quick access to the largest city in Canada as well as wine country, a predominantly unpretentious population born from a century of blue-collar labourers, a flourishing art scene, and genuine distraught amongst its residents about how misunderstood this city is by outsiders.  We have all watched Hamilton’s music scene develop; now the attention is on the growing art scene.  I am so unbelievably excited for the day that Hamilton catches up to other relevant major cities in another very important category: food. 

When I travel anywhere, I am most excited to experience new styles of food, original dining concepts, and unconventional tastes.  Hamilton, in the grand scheme of its life, is just starting this foray into the interesting world of food.  I am going to write about this from two perspectives: as an eager diner discovering what this growing city has to offer and as a person from the restaurant industry offering commentary on Hamiltonians as diners. 

Ultimately, I look forward to uncovering the culinary innovations in my hometown, Hamilton. 

See my articles in The Main