It is said that there is no mystery to being successful; it simply comes from hard work. For an example of that look no further than Ken Lauzon, a long time Penticton restaurateur. This coming July, Lauzon will celebrate 11 years of business in Penticton. Out of those 11 years, Lauzon’s restaurant, Black Iron Grill and Steakhouse has been selected as “The South Okanagan’s Best Steak” by Okanagan Life readers nine times. “I just felt Penticton needed a good quality steak restaurant,” he says. It features Alberta prime beef, 100 per cent B.C. wines and craft beers and as many other local products as possible.
One might be satisfied to own a successful restaurant. But Lauzon didn’t stop there. He’s added a catering business that employs 16 full time staff including the restaurant team. “I have staff who have stayed with me for a long time from other businesses I’ve run. I’m proud to say six of the 16 have been with me since day one.”
There are several good reasons why those six have been loyal. “We’re not afraid to take on someone who is green and try to make them fit in with our team. I’d rather have a personality than someone who thinks they know everything, and then take that personality and shape them into a quality server.”
Lauzon also sponsors those staff members who chose to upgrade their skills and education. “We give them the time off when they need it. We help with their tuition, if they receive a passing grade and when they’re done school they have a full time job waiting. I’m trying to build greater loyalty and a better-trained employee. It pays dividends for us.”
His generosity extends even further to paying rents, granting car loans and helping staff members who have been caught in tough situations.
The catering operation has led to a profitable and successful component of Lauzon’s business model. “As the area and the economy develops the catering will become more and more important. If you’ve got people in the kitchen chopping veggies for the restaurant why not keep chopping for that wedding party of 100 tomorrow.”
A keep-chopping attitude reflects Lauzon’s leadership style and business strategy. In 2013, when Penticton hosted the Continental Cup of Curling, Lauzon connected with some of the events organizers. At the time, they were looking for someone to take over the position of manager of bar operations. The job has now become food and beverage manager, Season of Champions, the five national curling championship events sanctioned and conducted by Curling Canada every year. “I wasn’t really interested in taking on another job. But I did because it provided an opportunity to work some world-class events. I’m going to travel the world and go to places I may never go and I’m going to work with some great people because I work with a total volunteer base and someone is going to pay me pretty good to do it.”
Taking that plunge has worked out well for Lauzon who has now completed four tours with Curling Canada. But again, it has come with a lot of hard work. His job has evolved from running the bar to being food and beverage provider for all events; opening and closing ceremonies and volunteer dinners. He has to acquire all the licenses and order all the food and drink needed to host a successful event. Venues can range from one thousand to six thousand people. “There’s a lot of logistical work involved prior to an event. You arrive two days early and then the event runs 9 or 10 days. You sell a million dollars worth of beer and get out of Dodge in a hurry.”
2016 Ottawa Brier Patch before and during the national curling championships.
Lauzon usually gets a few days off between events to regroup. But this year several events ran back to back which meant he was on the road for 42 days straight. “I was in three provinces, three cities and three different events. 10 flights and 42 nights in a hotel and sold over 150 thousand drinks in that period and fed a few people along the way.”
Training the dozens of volunteers at each event, in a very short period of time is another major undertaking Lauzon leads. Each event has an office with some admin staff that does pre-event work. He visits each city in advance for a day or two to take care of some of the logistics. He meets with the volunteers to do some pre-screening and pre-training. Representatives from liquor boards are brought in to give the volunteers a crash course on the legalities of handling and serving alcohol. “There’s a moral and legal responsibility to it. We tell them don’t be vigilante about it. Let people have fun but keep it legal.”
Newsletters are sent to each volunteer six months prior to an event. “They are loaded with tips and information on how to do their job. There are also lures in those newsletters on how they can win things. It helps keep them motivated. I appoint a couple of people in each city to be my feet-on-the-ground providing information and answering questions that I don’t need to be involved in.”
But Lauzon’s heart still beats strong for Penticton which he believes has a very bright future and he has no intention of leaving for a long time. “You’re seeing some money being injected into the community in rebuilds and residential. I think you’re going to be seeing some other things happen around the Gateway and the el Rancho. There are things on the edge that have been talked about for a long time that the economy of scale for developers is going to start to show. I think we’ll see improvements being made to the lakeshore as well. One new thing leads to several others and starts to attract more visitors and more people who decide to settle here. We struggle at times for business because of the size and the demographics. But it’s a great community do business in and to live in. I love Penticton, it’s a great town.”