Saturday 18 January 2014

Mercuri Rising: veteran restaurateur finds a home at P.F. Chang's

There are a lot of reasons to explain the incredible success of the PFChang’s China Bistro locations at the central Decarie/Jean Talon location and at Carrefour Laval. Michael Aronovici, the president of Interaction Restaurants and the man who brought this popular chain to Canada, knows how to pick his operating partners: Louie Mercuri at Decarie and Elie Sucar in Laval.

Mercuri is indeed an experienced restaurateur. In 1993 he opened a Nickels Deli in St. Léonard and followed that up eight years later with a fine dining Italian restaurant in the Plateau area called Giorno e Sera. In 2004 he was hired as regional director for Les 3 Brasseurs,  moving on in 2008 as general manager for St-Hubert Rotisseries Corporate Division. When the opportunity came about to join the prestigious PF Chang’s brand just over a year ago he jumped at it.

Louie Mercuri

“I was familiar with the American Brand from my travels in the southern states,” Mercuri says. “I received a call from a couple of contacts within the restaurant industry who referred me to Michael Aronovici and after a couple of meetings I was onboard this wonderful journey!”

Mercuri was born and raised in St-Léonard to a tradional Italian family. He attended Pierre de Coubertin Elementary School and  Laurier Macdonald High School.   

P.F. Chang's, of course,  is an international brand that features a unique dining experience within an elegant, contemporary and family-friendly setting.  With over 230 restaurants globally, each P.F. Chang's restaurant is a culinary journey inspired by the cuisine of the five regions of China, from Mongolia and Sichuan, to Beijing, Shanghai and Hunan.  Each restaurant also features a variety of signature cocktails and unique desserts. 

P.F. Chang's menu items are cooked-to-order in traditional Chinese woks, using only the freshest ingredients delivered to the restaurant every day.   The won ton and egg drop soups are traditional starters. But the chicken lettuce wraps remain the true signature dish. The Mongolian beef, crispy honey shrimp and chicken and double pan-fried noodles are house favorites.

At P.F. Chang’s,  big celebrations are planned  for the Chinese New Year, which begins January 30 . There will be $30,000 in prizes given away at the two locales. Folks need to look out for the lucky red envelopes.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

92.5 The Beat FM: GM Mark Dickie steps down; promotions director moves to CTV

Some big changes have occurred at 92.5 The Beat FM, with general manager Mark Dickie stepping down  from his post and promotions director Linda Fraraccio moving over to CTV Montreal.

Dickie confirmed to me that he is  headed back to Corus Entertainment - the former owners of The Beat predecessor Q92. "I am under contract to not disclose where I am going," he shared with me. "However, my wife Louise and I will be leaving Montreal and Quebec. I have been here 26 years almost to the date. I start my new position on February 3. I am certainly going to miss the great team we have at  The Beat."
Mark Dickie

Dickie was the mastermind behind the major format change, moving from the Q92 light rock format to The Beat's hits from the 80's, 90's and today. He made the dramatic move of not renewing favorite Aaron Rand's contract, choosing instead to pluck personalities away from rival Virgin  Radio such as Cat Spencer, Cousin Vinny and Nat Lauzon.

I personally appreciated my dealings with him. As to where he is headed, it is clearly another market.  Program Director Leo Da Estrela will step in as interim general manager.
Leo Da Estrela
Fracaccio is particularly good at what she does. She was hired at Q92 five years ago, leaving a similar post at Global TV.  “After nearly five years learning the ins and outs of radio, the opportunity to go back to TV – my first love – was one I could not pass up," she told me. "As I say goodbye to my friends at 92.5 The Beat, I take comfort in how well the station is doing, allowing me to focus on new and exciting challenges at CTV Montreal.”

At CTV Montreal, Fracaccio will serve as Manager of Creative Services, Promotions and Marketing.and work with such pros as promotions guru Jason Devine, himself a former Q92 staffer.. She is the second  impressive appointment CTV Montreal has made in recent months. Local sales director Wayne Bews came over from TSN 690 Radio.

Mourning the passing of educator and Explorations founder Bertha Dawang

As a parent of a child who attended Explorations, probably one of the  most rewarding day-camp format summer experiences a youngster can have  in this city, I got to know Bertha Dawang quite well. She was a co-founder of the program for boys and girls aged four  to 18. Up until last summer, she oversaw every aspect of the operation, with some key collaborators and a solid staff including skilled teachers from the public and private school systems and the university level.

“Do not call them counsellors,” she would frequently say. “They are teachers.”

And that they were, teaching classes such as music, art,  photography, dance, cooking, debating, fencing, build your own computer from scratch, exploring Montreal,  designing clothing  and a panorama of sciences.

The program was originally a designed as a summer school for gifted youngsters, but has broadened its mandate since then.  "This is now an enrichment program for all kids, because we feel that everyone is gifted in different ways,” Bertha would say. “We want to give everyone a chance to explore areas of learning which are not part of their regular curriculum.” 

When I first connected with Explorations as a parent eight years ago, Bertha told me she was almost ready to step down. “One more year,” she said.
Bertha Dawang

I would hear that line repeatedly. Explorations was too much part of this retired public school principal and teacher's life. I could see her enthusiasm from the moment the annual open house took place each June to the first day of activities when she could manage multiple conversations at a time. By the end of each day she stood guard at the door, making sure no parent or guardian she was unfamiliar with passed by.

It was only last April, when she got the horrible diagnosis of ovarian cancer, that Bertha reluctantly had to step aside. She lost her battle on January 11, leaving behind her devoted husband of 56 years Elie, two children, four grandchildren, a sister and an endless array of friends and admirers.

“Bertha is about the only person I would take a day off work for  to attend a funeral,” said a shaken Ian Hanchet, a gifted music teacher at the English Montreal School Board who runs the wildly popular School of Rock program at Explorations. “She was a true mentor to me.”
Bertha and Elie both retired together some 20 years ago. Elie was not only her partner in life, but he too could be found in the Explorations office each morning for the four  week summer experiences dealing with parents and staff. During the winter they would travel to foreign countries, such as Cambodia and the Czech Republic and often teach. In all they criss-crossed the globe and made about 50 different stops.

While Bertha was known for her tough exterior, I could always see her soft spot. She was an incredibly special person who always loved a cause to fight for. In recent years she could even be seen participating regularly in public question period at Westmount City Council meetings  over traffic concerns on a residential street.

During funeral  services, Rabbi Lisa Grushcow shared the story about Bertha attending a meeting of the former Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal head office. She went to the washroom, only to find they had two-ply toilet paper. It seemed the schools only had one-ply. “She would not stand for that kind of inequality,” said the rabbi.

Her son Stephen, who lives in Toronto, last saw her over the December holidays. “I had a full life,” she told him in what would be their last face to face.

Bertha was only 76 years young and there is no doubt that she would have maintained her active lifestyle for many years to come. We were told that even in her poor health, she still hosted an Explorations board meeting at her home in November.

Explorations, a partnership between McGill University and the EMSB, is sold out every summer with very little publicity. A few years ago Bertha brought noted educator Cliff Buckland to serve as her co-director and successor. He will steer the ship well. But there is no replacing Bertha. She was one in a million!