TORONTO — The sisters behind popular Montreal restaurant Mandy’s Gourmet Salads don’t just offer new combinations of fine greens and eclectic toppings.
Nearly 20 years after launching their signature version of the salad green, Rebecca and Mandy Wolfe reminisce about a busy year in which they added three outposts in Toronto – including two in the past few months – and introduced a second cookbook to attract those who are further away.
It looks like their chain of plant-focused restaurants is just the beginning.
During a recent whirlwind visit to Toronto, the sisters spoke about resisting pandemic shutdowns, dealing with inflationary economic pressures and growing their footprint.
“I feel like we’re already snowballing here,” Mandy Wolfe says over the phone as the duo dash through town between dates.
“We would like to continue our expansion in Toronto for a year or two. »
To recap: their first restaurant Hogtown, a bohemian-chic bar in trendy Ossington, opened in March.
This was followed about three months later by a take-out and delivery outlet in a downtown suburb, and on September 20, by another take-out and delivery outlet in a downtown enclave. dense condominium known as Liberty Village.
“When we first opened Ossington, it was inundated with many orders to deliver,” says Wolfe.
“We really wanted to focus on the customer experience and it’s tough when you have a tablet that just pulls orders – which is fantastic – but it slows down the waiting time for customers who are at the internal and want a full experience.”
The recent wave of ghost kitchens is often presented as a fallout from pandemic constraints. Exempt from the costs of maintaining a storefront and catering space, revenue is generated entirely through delivery notes.
But even though indoor dining has resumed, that’s not quite where it was. Wolfe sees lasting value in a virtual model, especially for Mandy’s and its easy-to-carry salads.
“Half our business has always been delivery and takeout, so we’ve been able to survive on that,” Wolfe says of the COVID-19 lockdowns and capacity caps that have sunk many restaurants.
“Salad is boring to make at home. I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that. If you want a good one, there are quite a few ingredients…. There’s something to be said for the convenience of choosing one that is pre-made for you.
Yet emerging from the pandemic has not been easy. Like many others in the industry, Wolfe says she raises prices to keep up with inflation. As of October 2, Mandy’s website advertised signature salads ranging from $12.50 to $18.50, with seasonal salads costing more.
“At the end of the day, we’re a business and we have to pay our staff and our rent,” says Wolfe.
“The cost of food has gone up. There’s been a big wake up call in the (recognition of)…work/life balance. So we want to be able to pay our staff not just competitively, but generously . and fair.”
Wolfe says a fourth location in Toronto – another sit-down – is set to open next spring in a huge upscale retail/residential/retail complex known as the Well, currently under development near the bustling neighborhood of King Street West.
The sisters are also still keen to move to Toronto’s Tony Yorkville neighborhood, she adds, but the exorbitant rents have been prohibitive.
As for broader expansion plans, Vancouver would be a natural next step, Wolfe agrees, deftly avoiding revelation by noting, “British Columbia would be a perfect fit.”
The seeds of a salad empire are certainly there, and the Wolfe sisters have proven adept at harnessing the power of social media to cultivate a brand that extends beyond colorful leaf dishes.
The sisters also sell Mandy brand sweatshirts, beanies and dressings, as well as an assortment of accessories, homewares and wellness products.
There’s also strategy in the recent rollout of their fall-themed cookbook “More Mandy’s: More Recipes We Love,” co-authored by Mandy Wolfe, Rebecca Wolfe, and Meredith Erickson. It follows “Mandy’s Gourmet Salads: Recipes for Lettuce and Life.”
“Cookbooks were kind of a fun calling card across the country before we opened there,” says Wolfe.
But she dismisses the idea of a grand vision, attributing it to “an organic journey” that coincidentally coincided with a wellness movement and growing appetites for plant-based dishes.
“I mean, neither Rebecca nor I have an MBA in business or a culinary background. We just kept doing things ourselves and it turned into something beyond anything we had ever dreamed of,” says Wolfe.
“We love serving fun creative food and atmospheres, having fun with our staff and serving people in different ways in a funky setting and with fun music.
“(We) kept doing it and people came.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 3, 2022.
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press