Chef Connie DeSousa
Just weeks after Charcut Roast House celebrated its 10th anniversary, the first lockdown of the pandemic closed its doors for months – as well as Char Restaurant Group’s other venues and its events and catering arm. But in the kind of on-your-feet thinking that has marked her performance at so many culinary competitions (including two appearances on Top Chef Canada), Chef Connie DeSousa and her partners made a quick pivot.
She and co-Chef John Jackson launched Charshop Butcher and provisions store online in the spring, featuring a selection of their choice cuts and house-made charcuterie. Connie & John’s Pizza takeout followed, as well as regular pasta pop-ups called Connie & John’s Italian, as restrictions lifted. None of these ideas sprang out of thin air.
“Butcher Shop …is something that we had always wanted to do… but we were always running around so busy,” says DeSousa. And they’d been testing the pizza and pasta concepts already, in anticipation of opening a restaurant in the forthcoming ALT Hotel University District.
“Calgary is — and always has been — very loyal and very supportive of local entrepreneurs,” says DeSousa. But what do chef-entrepreneurs need to bring to the table? “You need to have a passion — and the work ethic, the drive, the dedication, the determination. And now, more than ever…resiliency.”
Partnership is huge. “We all wear different hats in our business. We created that structure going in and… we lean on each other′s strengths. I would say that’s probably the most beneficial part of having partners and I can’t imagine going into business on my own.”
The chefs pride themselves on their mentorship program that has kept staff long-term, and has seen Chefs Jessica Pelland, Brody Ashton, and Chad Rittenhouse work their way up to be leaders of charbar, Charcut, and Char Events respectively. “That’s something that’s really, really important to us and is one of the core values of our company.”
“We’ve worked really hard to create work-life balance in our company, as well” — which includes making room for parenthood and encouraging physical activity. Both co-chefs have young children and both incorporate fitness into their daily routines. “I feel like it starts from the top down…If you can’t commit to it as a leader, then it’s not going to happen in the company.”
Her advice to potential chef-entrepreneurs? “Take your time with it. I worked in the industry for 10 years before we started our company. And not everyone needs to own their own restaurant. What’s cool about the industry is there are so many different avenues and outlets to be able to use your skills.” Calgary is and always has been very loyal and very supportive of local entrepreneurs
CHARSHOP BUTCHER AND CONNIE & JOHN’S PIZZA | CHARCUT.COM