Serving up success
Andreas Antoniou, HBA’06, reinvents dining in the heart of Toronto’s Financial District
By Jeff Renaud
Andreas Antoniou, HBA’06, may have changed his game, but he has found the same success off the gridiron as he did on it as an OUA all-star for the Mustangs.
In 2017, Antoniou and his partners launched Assembly Chef’s Hall, an 18,000-square-foot food hall in the heart of Toronto’s Financial District, which is home to 17 restaurants fueled by some of the Big Smoke’s top chefs. Located at 111 Richmond St. West, in the same building as Google’s Toronto office, Assembly Chef’s Hall is a new model for global cuisine."
And Antoniou expects, someday soon, it will be the new normal.
“We view our model as disruptive. The challenge has always been (for restaurants), ‘How do you serve lots of people?’ The answer has been GFS, Sysco, large-scale food distributors or caterers,” he explained. “What we are changing now with our model is that people can come here – to one place – and have a selection of some the highest quality food and beverage in the city, made by masters who are putting out what they do better than anyone else.”
After graduating from Ivey Business School, Antoniou moved to Los Angeles to work in investment banking for Credit Suisse. It turned out to be a crash course as his time in La La Land ran headfirst into the American housing bubble burst of 2008.
Like a pro, the former offensive lineman held his ground.
“Los Angeles was an incredible learning experience. I got to see all of the crazy lending firsthand. Then I got to see it all collapse and how you can win in that scenario, as well,” Antoniou said. “But after four years, my family asked me to come home and I never looked back.”
His father Bob Antoniou wanted him to return to Canada to help him run the family restaurant business that was built around the iconic Little Anthony’s Italian Ristorante, a Toronto landmark for 17 years.
Over the past decade, Antoniou and his father have launched – and relaunched – a number of restaurants including Little Anthony’s, Estiatorio Volos, Los Colibris, and El Caballito.
But Assembly Chef’s Hall is the family’s crown jewel.
“Owning and operating four or five restaurants all at the same time, we saw huge problems in the industry.”
He began to ask himself: How do you share infrastructure costs in better ways? How do you better utilize really expensive infrastructure in a manner that supports really talented people?
“Think about the evolution of retail. It’s gone from big box, static, mass production to small, boutique, ultra- and hyper-specialization. And that’s what we’re doing here,” Antoniou explained.
At Assembly Chef’s Hall, patrons can enjoy the expertise of a highly specialized master, whether it’s food or drink, in a hyperdense, wealthy urban setting.
“When you think of the Chef’s Hall model, this is really the evolution of restaurants,” Antoniou continued. “For restaurants, every cost has been rising but there is only so much we can charge customers. Not just the cost of the dish. It’s the cost to build. The cost to rent. The cost to operate. It’s everything.
“The only way you combat that is to change the model. And that’s what we’ve done.”
Antoniou and his partners have created an environment where they can incubate top talents, who otherwise couldn’t get access or couldn’t afford or didn’t want to spend the cash necessary to open a restaurant in the Financial District.
Chefs and restaurateurs can come to Chef’s Hall and for as low as $30,000 and as high as $140,000, they can launch a business in the heart of downtown Toronto. It’s not feasible otherwise.
“And it’s because we only had to build bathrooms once. We only had to build storage areas once. We only had to build hood ventilation systems once,” Antoniou said. “The model allows us to always find the best of the best people, who do their thing better than anyone else, which is what the employees in these towers all around us are looking for over the next 20 years.”
Antoniou honed his team-building, holistic approach to business at Western on and off the field. He estimates that during the season, there was 60-65 hours of football per week and 40-50 hours of school work at Ivey.
“It would have been easy to quit football. But I am where I am today because of perseverance,” he explained. “A lot of people when they got to Ivey stopped playing interuniversity sports. That’s common. It makes perfect sense. But for me, it didn’t. You just have to find a way.”
He continued, “That experience prepared me for working at Credit Suisse. There, you have a 105-hour work week. You’ve got to grind. I was already used to the grind and I proved to myself that I could be successful doing both.
“It’s undeniable Western gave me the platform to take off from. Without that platform, who knows where I would be?”
Photography for story by Frank Neufeld
This article appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of Alumni Gazette