Behind Amin Todai’s desk hangs a portrait of the late, great hip-hop legend The Notorious B.I.G.
A poker-faced Biggie stares out, overlooking the sprawling syndicate of digital marketing agency OneMethod’s 45 or so employees in the Toronto office, a loose array of snapback ball caps and headphones, eyes affixed to iMac screens.
They’re elbow-to-elbow, unused counter space is a coveted commodity at the digital and design agency. An employee has even commandeered Mr. Todai’s office for a conference call.
Mr. Todai pokes his head in, wearing his trademark grin.
“Want to check out the bar we’re building in the new office?” asks the 37-year-old president and chief creative officer. He’s dressed like a hip-hop star, chain peeking from the collar of his shirt.
We walk across the freshly dry-walled passageway leading to the second high-ceilinged, recently gutted office plunked on the stretch of King Street between Bathurst and Spadina affectionately known as Agency Row.
OneMethod is expanding.
“Over here we’re going to have the bar called The Meth Lab and back there we’ll have a showroom type thing for our restaurant incubator,” says Mr. Todai. At the moment, it’s a chaotic mess of damp dust, exposed wires and awkwardly placed stepladders but he talks as if the additions are there already.
Though OneMethod was acquired in 2012 by advertising agency Bensimon Byrne and he was made a partner, that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to build a range of other companies, especially in the culinary and design fields, passions of his.
Over the past 13 years he’s fashioned himself an empire ranging from OneMethod to his pivotal role in the success of eight restaurants, including the much-hyped taco peddler La Carnita, which took off as a pop-up restaurant and art sale in surprise locations around town.
As a teenager, Mr. Todai had his heart set on going to design school, but his parents, who were paying for his education, wanted him to take a business-oriented route.
“They weren't going to pay for an art college so I thought, ‘How do I get around this and fake my way into design?’ ” Mr. Todai says. He settled on studying marketing at Ryerson University in Toronto.
“While I was there, I taught myself all the design programs,” he says.
It was a double life, with days reserved for business school and evenings and commutes spent devouring design textbooks.
By graduation, Mr. Todai was an all-in-one marketing department. He did a year-and-a-half stint in marketing at Siemens AG before joining the now-defunct EquityEngine.com – an early crowdsourcing incubator where people submitted ideas and the team, including Mr. Todai, built out the concepts to pitch to venture capitalists.
It was at EquityEngine.com that he learned “the smoke and mirrors of building a business.”
After a year and a half toying with others’ ideas, it was time for his own.
He took a job in marketing at Rogers Communications Inc. to build a cash cushion and in 2001 launched OneMethod from his condo.
He added employees as his client base swelled.
“I just started filling my living room with more and more desks, my bedroom became one of the board rooms, the balcony was the other conference room – I had two people working at my coffee table,” Mr. Todai says. “You did what you had to do.”
It was not much different than OneMethod’s current “at capacity” condition.
In 2007, while building OneMethod, he launched Picture Perfect Motoring – a customization shop for high-end super cars – with former Toronto Raptors player Morris Peterson.
That company closed its doors two years later.
“That was my first failure at a business endeavour – I called it a very expensive MBA,” Mr. Todai says. “It taught me that not everything I’m going to do is going to be a home run.”
It didn’t take long to rebound. Shortly after Picture Perfect Motoring tanked, Mr. Todai was approached by a mutual friend looking for investors to back a new restaurant called Lucien. Mr. Todai was smitten by the idea.
Since Lucien, he’s helped to launch a series of culinary experiments in Toronto that range from southern barbecue to fine dining, Spanish cuisine, and even a modern saloon. These include Lou Dawg’s, La Carnita, Weslodge, Patria, Home of the Brave, Byblos and Switch bar/lounge.
“It’s like rappers: Everybody wants to own a club and a restaurant; it’s just one of those things that guys with money end up doing,” says Mr. Todai glancing out the dusty windowpane to the saloon-like signage of Weslodge on King Street below. “For me, I wasn’t trying to be flashy, I was just super interested – cooking is a creative outlet for me and I’ve always loved the idea of restaurants and the experiences people get going to good, well-designed spaces.”
He’s also in the process of readying a street wear line to be launched in the summer and sold via the OneMethod website, as well as conceptualizing an interactive furniture line.
“It’s just trial-and-error stuff,” he says with a shrug. “I’m okay with just breaking even; I don’t see that as a failure.”
Mr. Todai is eons away from the 24-year-old who sat designing OneMethod’s logo in his bedroom at his parent’s place. But in a sense he still sees the world through the same lens.
“The litmus test is me: If I think it’s cool, usually other people will feel it’s cool, too,” Mr. Todai says. “I trust my creative instincts and eye for design.”
He pauses as if reconsidering the stone-faced Biggie overlooking his design syndicate on the other side of the building.
“I mean, it’s obviously not just about me. It’s about the people we surround ourselves with,” Mr. Todai says. “It’s kind of like being a rapper: They want to collaborate with the best in class of their business, even if it’s different styles. Things just kind of happen when you meet good, smart people and creative types. You just want to collaborate.”