Photo credit: Wayne Lindo

TORONTO — More than 160 attendees gathered last week at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel for KML’s second-annual Top-30-Under-30 Summit. This year’s event, Celebrating Next Gen Trailblazers, celebrated the winners of KML’s prestigious Top-30-Under-30 awards and featured panel discussions that offered attendees the chance to glean insights from present and future industry leaders.

The event opened with a celebratory breakfast for the Top 30 winners and their guests, followed by the awards presentation, led by Rosanna Caira, editor/publisher, KML and Bruce McAdams, associate professor, School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management, University of Guelph. Georgy Pyle, Sustainability manager, Fairmont Royal York, Toronto then delivered the Valedictorian Address.

Following the awards, Caira sat down with Hanif Harji, CEO of Scale Hospitality for an Icons & Innovators interview that outlined Harji’s journey in the hospitality industry and highlighted strategies for growth, including identifying under-served areas and building a strong team. Harji discussed his experiences in building a restaurant empire through partnerships and innovation, emphasizing the crucial role of people and culture in success.

The conversation centred around the challenges and opportunities facing the hospitality industry post-pandemic and Harji emphasized the importance of creating a singular vision for restaurant concepts, sourcing local ingredients, and balancing digital marketing efforts with genuine hospitality.

“Every customer is different,” he pointed out. “They’re celebrating, they may be working on a business deal or having a social night out. You really need to understand who your client is, and make sure their night goes exactly the way that they want to go. Awareness is really important and so, for me, being honest, being aware and having a genuine ability to want to host them are important things.”

Other topics covered during the session included how to address the talent gap and the need for industry evolution and adaptability to attract new generations.

For more in-depth coverage of the Icons & Innovators interview, watch for our July/August issue of Foodservice and Hospitality magazine.

The first panel of the morning, Defunding DEI, The Case for People and the Engine that Powers our System, was moderated by Trevor Lui president & CEO, Highbell Hospitality Group and co-founder at Quell Now Inc. The panel featured Ren Navarro, owner/operator at B Diversity Group; Joshna Maharaj chef, activist; and Christina Veira, owner of Bar Mordecai in Toronto.

The group discussed the challenges and opportunities when it comes to advancing inclusivity in the hospitality industry, highlighting the need for continued conversations and actions towards a more inclusive and equitable industry. They emphasized the importance of understanding and addressing systemic barriers, creating safe spaces for marginalized workers, and recognizing the lack of representation in leadership roles. They also discussed the need for tailored onboarding and training policies to accommodate diverse learning styles and experiences. Finally, the panellists acknowledged the importance of champions in this space and encouraged further conversations to continue leading the industry into the next generation.

“I do want to also acknowledge that along this journey, there are a lot of champions in this space,” said Lui. “There are a lot of champions in this room and the future is very bright. The conversation has to continue with people that have the power to continue to usher in these conversations so we can have a more collaborative and constructive way around the table. We don’t want to take a seat away. We just want to add a chair.”

Before breaking for lunch, Shantay Brown, assistant general manager, e11even/Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, delivered the first of three Rapid Fire talks and shared her personal experiences as a female and minority in the workplace. She detailed the challenges she has faced and the resilience she has developed, emphasizing the importance of authenticity, taking action, and never letting others define one’s identity or potential. Through her experiences, Brown encouraged others to embrace their unique perspectives and overcome obstacles with resilience and determination.

For coverage of the Top-30-Under-30 Summit’s afternoon sessions, check out the Thursday edition of Hospitality Headlines.


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