TORONTO — It was a bittersweet morning at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto as Isadore Sharp, founder and chairman or the host hotel, spoke candidly about his company’s birth, growth, sale and imminent closure of its iconic Avenue Road location as preparations are made to move to Bay and Scollard Street in July.
Rosanna Caira, editor and publisher of Kostuch Media, producer of Hotelier and Foodservice and Hospitality magazine, hosted a roomful of industry professionals and students in leading the media company’s new Icons & Innovators breakfast series with the Canadian icon. “Izzy will tell you there was no vision; there was no grand dream,” said Caira in introducing the leader who unwittingly launched an empire, which has grown to include 86 properties across 35 countries.
Sharp graduated from the Ryerson Institute of Technology in 1952 with a degree in architectural technology. Today, he’s respected as a world leader in hospitality and the community, acting as the director of the National Terry Fox Run.
It’s been a busy half of a century. In 2007, Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., and Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal bought the brand from public investors in a move that the founder saw as a step he wanted to take to “grow the company legacy.” And, now moving onto another chapter, as the Four Seasons on Avenue Road closes, Sharp isn’t getting too nostalgic. “What Four Seasons stands for is the people, and we’ll be able to move the people, so that part of Four Seasons won’t change.”
The new 259-room modern hotel will include the best in luxury with a 30,000-square-foot spa and Café Boulud, a restaurant by renowned chef Daniel Boulud. “There’s always a need for the best in every community. What we offer doesn’t go out of style, it grows,” said the hotelier, while talking about opening a luxury property during times of economic uncertainty. To Sharp, the biggest challenge moving forward will be navigating the social-media maelstrom. “We’re just scratching the surface as to how this will affect our industry,” he said, stressing the importance of good service in a world where one disgruntled customer can reach thousands of potential customers.
Either way, Sharp intends to stand strong on the precepts of the business he built. “Trust and integrity is the religion of the company,” he says of the brand that has 60 properties under construction. “[Great service] has to be measured on its consistency; It’s not what you can do some of the time; it’s what you can do all of the time.”
Kostuch Media’s next Breakfast Series will be held Sept. 20 at the Toronto Board of Trade. It will feature Peter Oliver and Chef Michael Bonacini of Oliver & Bonacini. For more details, visit foodserviceworld.com.