Introducing Erin Dunham and Matt Kershaw, co-founders of The Other Bird Inc. group which includes a portolio of restaurants including The Alex in Burlington, Ont., Rapscallion Rogue Eatery, Two Black Sheep, Black Sheep Snack Bar and (soon) The Mule in Hamilton, Ont.
Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Erin: The Other Bird is a restaurant group that offers culinary experiences that pull you out of your comfort zone, but in a relaxed, easygoing way.
Matt: We're trying to open people's minds to new food and drink experiences and test their limits. We opened our first restaurant, The Alex, in Burlington in Oct. 2010. We wanted to challenge the restaurant experience in North America where everything is large-portion, low-quality. We do small portions, high quality and no pretenses.
Erin: That's a theme that carries through the two sibling restaurants we've since opened in Hamilton: Rapscallion Rogue Eatery – a nose-to-tail experience – and Two Black Sheep, a cocktail and oyster bar. We're now in the process of opening a Black Sheep Snack Bar and a taco, tequila and bourbon restaurant called The Mule. We believe that we're in the business of giving Hamilton the restaurants it needs. We open places that don't otherwise exist in the city and that we want to hang out in.
What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
Erin: Opening our own restaurants has been more of an obvious decision than inspiration, really. Everyone I know always thought that I was going to own my own business. I'm really good at being the boss and really bad at being an employee. I used to work in corporate hotels and I moved up, up and up until realized I didn't want to be at the top of that. I wanted to be at the top of something I created.
Matt: To be honest, I always assumed that I would run my own restaurant and I felt guilty I hadn't done it by the time I was 30. As a chef, the idea of working for someone the rest of my life wasn't particularly appealing – you want full creative contrl. When I was working previously as a chef at a private club my job was to please the members, but I wanted to please myself.
Erin: In launching and building The Other Bird, our skillsets have been complementary. We both have 15 years experience in management – Matt has the knowledge as chef, and I have the knowledge in front-of-house hospitality. We're the perfect combination.
Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Erin: We tend to cater to two distinct groups: young professionals without kids and empty nesters. Social media has been unbelievably important in connecting with our customers. We've created an amazing group of followers through Twitter, and that drives our business.
Matt: On one occasion, within 20 minutes of sending message through Facebook and Twitter, we sold-out a 40-person charity dinner from nothing.
Erin: It's almost like people want to publicly align themselves with us, which is awesome. We recently raised over $100,000 through a crowdfunding campaign to back the opening of The Mule and were awestruck by the outpouring of support from our customers and the community.
What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
Erin: I'm the CEO of The Other Bird Inc. and Matt is my co-founder and executive chef. My role is focused on the company's management and future development, as well as acting as the head of HR, PR and almost everything else.
Matt: I think about food all the time. Despite the fact that I'm seriously and formally trained, I don't take cooking so seriously that it isn't fun. I like giving young chefs opportunities and watching them grow and develop.
Erin: We employ an incredibly diverse group of 30 people, including chefs, servers and bartenders. All of our staff share our passion for food and drink, but the one quality that all of our employees have in common is their great personalities. We hire based on personality and ability to get along with the team first, and skill second.
Matt: Our staff are all mature and career-focused – they're not serving food to put themselves through university. They're working in this business because it's their passion. That's why we hire them.
You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
Erin: Ultimately, we try to be different than everyone else. We try to not to be traditional with the food we serve. We don't just hire pretty young things, we hire knowledgeable staff. And we operate in an unconventional manner. We asked our community to help fund a new restaurant so that we didn't have to sell our souls to a bank. And thanks to dozens of people who wanted to join us and support our vision, we're able to open a restaurant that we think will be exciting for Hamilton's culinary scene.
Matt: Our staff have been hugely important to our success at every turn. They're a group of easy going professionals who are educated in food and drink and super-passionate about their work. A night out in our restaurants isn't necessarily typical, and we walk you through it to make sure you're comfortable even when you're outside of your comfort zone.