Customer Spotlight: Function Bar
Co-author: Nathalie Magsino
We sat down with David Brocklehurst and Paula Poirier Co-Owners of Function Bar, a recently opened gastropub in the Yonge and Eglinton area! We chatted about their journey to the grand opening, how to retain employees and their delicious experimental menu!
How did Function Bar’s journey begin?
[Paula] We both come from fine dining backgrounds. We actually met working at a fine dining Italian restaurant. Although it’s delicious food, we felt limited by what we could do. We were pretty much just doing pastas and proteins. Of course you can get creative with this cuisine, but for us we felt that we could only go so far because there were limits to how crazy we could get with our dishes.
So, we ended up bouncing ideas back and forth. David had this idea to have a restaurant with a bunch of emojis on the menu because it wasn’t something that was being done and it was just a super fun concept that we played around with.
[David] I was getting really bored and I started to experiment with really obscure ingredients. I was working with things like Dr. Pepper, potato chips, really a lot of ingredients that are just plain bad for you.
How did you get into the foodservice industry?
[P] I’ve been working in the restaurant industry for about 7 years now. I worked my way up, starting as a Barista at Dimitri’s Cafe. Now I’m running and owning the coffee shop here at Function Bar.
[D] I started about 23 years ago as a dishwasher and moved up the ranks, eventually managing an Italian restaurant that both Paula and I worked at (it’s how we met!) Now at Function Bar we’ve both been brought back to the basics again. I’m running business and more specifically the kitchen, but I’m also still washing the dishes too.
What’s been different for you when it comes to actually owning a restaurant versus being an employee?
[D] We have a lot of knowledge in regards to how a restaurant should run based on our own experience. From how to create an awesome dining experience for guests to how a kitchen should function. But, when you actually own the space there’s a huge learning curve. You have to establish rapport with contractors or suppliers, you have to learn how to get permits and things like a liquor license. There is a lot that you don’t experience as an employee and it’s tough but it’s really exciting at the same time.
How have your staff responded to working with these ingredients?
[D] It’s really exciting for the staff! They can literally think of something the night before, come into work and just be like… “I want to try this”. And for us, there’s really no reason not to try. We’re so experimental in the kitchen and it keeps everyone’s creative juices flowing.
How do you retain your current employees and how would you attract new ones?
[D] Chefs can get bored easily if they’re making the same thing everyday. That’s not the case here, we’re experimenting all of the time. There are always bored chefs around the city and we provide them with a new outlet to be creative.
Outside of that, I think that the whole ranking system has gone out the door. We don’t want to create a culture where people at the top are barking down orders to those below them. Kitchen culture can be pretty intense sometimes and not necessarily in the best ways either. We want to create an atmosphere where people really like working with one another. Our goal as owners and as people is to help others learn more and be better. We will always hire staff based on whether or not they’re a good person with the drive to learn, because we can teach them the rest.
You just have to provide some kind of structure, allow people to build a routine for what the restaurant needs. Once they’ve achieved that, you let them do their own thing and allow them to work on what they want to outside of that (a new recipe, working on cutting techniques, etc).
[P] When I first started working with David, I was a new employee and he was a manager. Personally speaking, in all of my years in the restaurant industry, I have never seen a manager work so hard; he outworked all of us really. I’ve learned more in the four years of working side-by-side with David than I did at any other place. He’s an amazing mentor and I think our staff believe it too.
At Function, we don’t want to tell people what to do, we want to guide them on what they should do. We want to empower our employees to eventually be in a position to own their own restaurant one day, should that be what they choose to do.
How did you decide on the Yonge and Eglinton area?
[P] We kept discussing where this type of restaurant concept would work. We thought maybe somewhere on College Street, or in Kensington Market or Queen Street, a kind of young and hipster area. hen we thought… Yonge and Eglinton’s restaurant scene is up and coming and there’s not too many places in the area that are selling craft beer so it just felt like the right location for us.
[D] And just to go off what Paula said, we want to continue to be experimental and bring forward new flavours and combinations to the table. That includes our drink menu too. We work with some craft breweries who are being just as new and fun as we are with their beer selection. For example, we’re bringing in a donut and coffee stout and we’re looking into a fruit loop stout too. It’s these new experimental flavours that are so in line with who we are as a restaurant but also what’s missing from the Yonge and Eglinton area. It was a perfect fit for us.
And why this place specifically?
[P] One day, a little bit before we actually moved into the area ourselves, we noticed that there was a for lease sign in the door. I thought it was the upstairs, there was a patio and I thought, yes that’s perfect! Turns out it was the downstairs and it was triple the size that we initially wanted to go for.
[D] We wanted about 30 to 40 seats. Something super small.
[P] We just couldn’t pass up on the opportunity. It was a lot bigger than we wanted but it was an awesome space so we just went for it.
How did you come up with the name Function Bar?
[P] Well it was initially supposed to be called space bar, like on a keyboard because we wanted to do something around the emoji theme. We thought that would tie everything all together. Turns out the name was taken by some law firm in Mississauga. We definitely didn’t want to mess around with a law firm.
So, we thought about different alternatives. Eventually, we decided on Function Bar.
[D] When we were picking our name, we also had the possibility of expansion in mind too. If we were to ever expand one day, we could keep the core name of Function Bar and maybe add “coffee” in there if it was just the coffee shop. Something along the lines of how the Firkin has branded their locations for example.
[P] Branding is a big part of our strategy and also influenced our name choice. We want to build a brand that is recognizable by our guests in any setting. That’s why we’ve got stickers everywhere from our t-shirts to our glasses.
How do guests describe this place?
[D] Fun. Fun menu offerings, fun drink offerings, fun atmosphere. We’ve got Mario Kart at the bar, a Galaga score that no one can beat.
[P] Yes! I couldn’t agree more. I don’t have any doubts that people will recognize the creativity behind the menu. We’re having so much fun creating these menu offerings and I really believe that it translates into the guest experience. People love it; they love things that are brand new and discovering that new thing gets them excited and that’s what Function Bar provides guests.
Your menu has some pretty unique ingredients, what inspired that?
[D] When you’re shopping, the general rule of thumb is to shop around the outside of the store. You’ve got your fresh produce, dairy, meats, breads and so on. What we wanted to do here was to focus in the middle, where things aren’t so good for you but man do they taste good. I’ll admit that our food isn’t the healthiest, but we wanted to create a fun space for our guests and I think that our menu helps us achieve that.
[P] There are no limits to our menu. During our soft launch, we wanted to do something that was obscure and hadn’t been done before. So we created a Neapolitan Thanksgiving gelato. It has things like gravy, stuffing, sweet potato and marshmallow casserole; it tasted delicious.
At first glance your menu items include many different types of combinations that don’t seem like they should work together… but they really, really do. How?
[D] It’s really all about the technique. I try to add in all of the needed elements to each dish. For example, for our Dr. Pepper duck tacos, I try to incorporate both sweet and spicy elements as well as crunch. As a chef, you need to make sure that you’re incorporating all of these different techniques and elements to a dish to make it delicious and we’re doing that here, just at a bar price. We’re offering people five-star food at maybe a two-star price.
In short, you can create awesome dishes with ingredients ranging from chips to kobe beef, really anything as long as you use the proper technique.
On that note, what’s a dish that you’re really proud of?
[D] The pulled pork is awesome. It’s smoked in-house for about 6 hours. We inject it with apple cider and spices and a whole bunch of other ingredients. After that, it gets popped into the oven for another 6 hours. It’s a time intensive dish and it’s not easy to make, but it’s so delicious.
Something else that we’re proud of is our commitment to cooking our food daily. We have the tiniest freezer in our kitchen and we really only use it for gelato. At every restaurant I’ve been to, I’ve taken pride in cooking everything from scratch. There’s something so inviting about walking into a restaurant and smelling all of the delicious aromas around you. I love that feeling when I walk into a restaurant and our guests love it when they walk into Function Bar. If you pop by in the morning, you can expect to smell fresh, tasty croissants permeating in the air.
Where do you get your inspiration for your menu items?
[P] A lot of it comes from cartoons. We’ve got a ton of cool menu items that get spun off from cartoons that we love.
Another big area of inspiration for us is New York City. Before we signed our lease, we actually took a little field trip to NYC to see what was happening there. You can go to a hole in the wall in Brooklyn and they’ll be banging out some of the best food you’ve ever had. It just gave us a lot of inspiration and motivation to move forward with Function Bar!
What advice would you give to future and current restaurateurs?
[D] If you’re planning on opening a space, chances are you’ve already worked in or ran one for a considerable amount of time; you already have a feel for how things should flow. But, based on our experience being first-time owners, I would say get on those permits ASAP. Licensing takes forever. The day that you signed the lease for the space is the day that you should get on those permits. Make sure you have a good contractor too.
[P] Familiarize yourself with all of the backend stuff. People in this industry don’t talk about it too much so it’s hard to know what that could include. This could be things like setting up an inventory system, this will help you find your sweet spot of spending 25-30% on food cost.
Also, test out your POS before launch, run through scenarios with your employees to get them familiarized with the tech, but also to run into potential roadblocks they may encounter, like excluding certain ingredients, what a lot of customers might add, etc. and make that easy to do for your FoH staff. A lot of this will be built over time though but it’s good to at least play around with it first.
As a new restaurant, how do you tackle forecasting for costs, how much to order and so on?
[D] Just a bit of backstory, I’m a huge fantasy baseball guy and every year I forecast my projections in some crazy excel file that I’ve built. I look at absolutely everything. I do the exact same for Function Bar. Being a new restaurant, we’re slowly gathering those numbers. I’ll break things down by hours open, guests, how much they’re spending, what the weather was like that day, you name it. like I forecast with baseball, I do that same with this restaurant.
For any restaurant, you want to make sure that you have the right amount of people working at the right times. So these forecasts are really going to help with that and it will also help you gain more control over your costs. The same goes for your ordering, you can more accurately forecast what supplies you need.
How would you define success for your first year of business?
[D] A stable core client base of people that are really into what we’re doing. We want to succeed in attracting the guests who get our concept and will appreciate our craft. Guests that will walk into the restaurant and see thanksgiving gelato on the menu and get excited about it.
Why did you choose to work with ChefHero?
[D] When you have to deal with ordering, a lot of the time you’re calling in at the end of the night to get your orders in and then the phone line breaks or something happens and nothing really feels concrete. With ChefHero, I have something firm because I have written proof of exactly what I ordered and it makes things a lot easier. It takes away the “he said, she said” type of conversation between the restaurant and supplier.
The suppliers on the platform are also awesome. Before ChefHero, I was searching on Amazon because my supplier at the time had never heard of the supplies I was asking for. ChefHero’s suppliers have such expansive lists and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could order a lot of these supplies on the app rather than go through Amazon.
ChefHero helps us save on costs. We have all of our supply ordering consolidated in one place and we’re able to pay by credit card. Apart from the benefits we get from being able to pay by credit, we’re saving a ton of time on the payment process alone. Before, our fish guy would come in and I’d stop what I was doing and cut him a check, hand it to him, go to the office and enter everything into the computer and then after this whole 10 minute process I can’t remember what I was actually working on before.