Serving Winnipeg's Jewish Community Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn Youtube

maury rubinBy BERNIE BELLAN
The Jewish Business Network held a meeting on Tuesday, January 23rd that, as it turned out, provided me with some unexpected material for the story you’re about to read.

You see, although I have been directly involved with the creation of this group, of late I had stepped back from involving myself in the agendas for upcoming meetings. But, when I showed up at the most recent meeting I was surprised to learn that I was still expected to introduce the two guest speakers who would be addressing the group that evening: Restaurateur (and chef) Alfonso Maury and accountant Luis Rubin.
I spoke with both gentlemen quickly prior to the beginning of the meeting to obtain some background material that I could use in introducing them. I found out that both had been born in Argentina, but while Luis immigrated to Winnipeg directly from Argentina 16 years ago, Alfonso took a more roundabout way of getting here – having come here from Israel, where he had been living – and working on Kibbutz Ein Gev.
If you haven’t heard about the Jewish Business Network until this point, let me tell you a little bit about it. It began with an idea to bring together individuals of all sorts of different backgrounds in a very relaxed atmosphere where people could mingle, meet new friends, and perhaps form some business associations. There have been five meetings to date – and each one has attracted at least 70 attendees, with some meetings attracting over 100.
The JBN, as it is called, is sponsored by the Rady JCC. The coordinator is Julia Kramskoy, who is also the Rady JCC’s newcomer outreach coordinator. (Julia can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., phone 204-477-7406.) Working directly with Julia has been the indefatigable Tamar Barr, Assistant Executive Director of the Rady JCC. Together those two women have done an outstanding job of organizing each meeting by arranging for venues and providing refreshments – all at no cost to anyone attending. It is a tribute to the willingness of the Rady JCC to take on new challenges that both Tamar and Julia have stepped forward without hesitation, and have been given full support by Rady JCC Executive Director Gayle Waxman, as well.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to see a very large crowd that Tuesday in January in the Multipurpose Room of the Asper Campus. It was a bitterly cold night and, other than having a chance to hear from the two guest speakers, I wasn’t aware of anything else on the agenda. As it turned out though – and as has now become the tradition at these JBN meetings, it seemed that most everyone who was there was interested in continuing the networking that had begun that very first meeting in July. When I walked in there were already at least 70 people there – all standing around and mingling. As usual, it took quite a while to get everyone to sit down so that the meeting could come to order.
By the time I was able to introduce the two guest speakers, practically every available chair had been filled, which meant that there were closer to 100 people in the room. I was able to recognize many of the faces from previous meetings, but as has now become the custom at these meetings, there were many people there for the first time. In addition, what is so pleasantly surprising about this group is that many of the attendees are relative newcomers to Winnipeg. The fact that they’re interested in meeting other Jewish business people is a credit to their interest in bonding with fellow Jews. As an aside, I should also mention that no one is asked whether they’re Jewish when they come to these meetings. While it would be nice to retain a Jewish identity to the group, the fact that there are no membership requirements has lent an easy informality to meetings that, by all accounts, has contributed to their success.
As noted, Alfonso Maury came to Winnipeg six years ago (in 2012) from Israel, where he had been a chef at the famous fish restaurant on Kibbutz Ein Gev, which is located on Lake Kinneret.
“We would often serve over 1,000 meals a day at our restaurant,” Maury said. With that kind of experience one might have expected that Maury would have insisted on accepting a job that would call for someone of similar qualifications.
But, rather than holding himself aloof, Maury explained that, when he immigrated to Winnipeg, he was willing to start at any level in the restaurant business. He went to apply for a job at Hermanos Restaurant on Bannatyne, and was interviewed by the owner, Noel Bernier (who is also the owner of many other Winnipeg restaurants, including Carnaval, Prairie 360, a second Heramanos on Osborne, and just lately, the Salisbury House chain, which he purchased from Earl Barish).
Maury told the JBN audience that Bernier took one look at his resumé and said to him that he was far too qualified for the job opening he had at Hermanos, which was a simple line cook. Maury insisted to Bernier that he wasn’t over qualified, and that he was prepared to start at the bottom.
Within a couple of weeks, Maury noted, he was promoted to sous chef (second in command) at Hermanos, and within another very short time he was the head chef there. In 2013 Maury moved over to Prairie 360, where he was also head chef.
In 2012 Noel Bernier had opened another small restaurant (seating only 65) near Hermanos, called Corrientes. But, in an act of exceeding generosity, in 2015, Bernier invited Maury to buy Corrientes from him so that Maury could have his own restaurant.
Here is how Bernier explained the background to that decision in a 2017 interview he gave on something called the “Manitoba Business Podcast”:
(In 2012) “I opened Corrientes which is an Argentinian pizzeria, about 50 yards down the street from Hermano’s. I opened that one solely without any partners and about two years after I opened it up, I actually sold it to one of my chefs. So I had a chef who was originally from Argentina but had migrated via Israel where he’d worked for 10 years and he was doing phenomenal things as my chef at Hermano’s and then eventually, my chef at Prairie 360. Alfonso Maury is his name - a very strong man, and he’s such a good friend of mine and he had ambition to really work hard and we had reached the limits within the company of what I could offer him to really work for more.
“So I actually sold Corrientes to him, helped transition, you know, went through the whole process and I consider it one of my…it’s the only time I’ve sold something that I owned 100% and it definitely wasn’t a profitable sale. The restaurant was very new and still in that phase of having more expenses than revenue. But Alfonso, who’s only been in the country for a couple of years at the time, and I worked together to really get him going and I’m really happy to say that Corrientes is one of the biggest successes in the East Exchange right now. And it’s just a wonderful restaurant but that belongs to Alfonso Maury now after I founded it.”

Now, in order to understand just how precarious owning a restaurant can be, Maury offered some of the insights that he had gleaned in his years working for others in the business.
“Ninety per cent of restaurants fail in the first six months after opening,” he warned. Further, even if you are making a profit the margins are so slim – five per cent if you’re lucky, that it’s a constant struggle to stay alive.
“Look at just some of the costs – not including food or wages,” Maury explained. “Advertising, taxes, fees…we have a patio that costs us $2500 a year to the city…the only way you can make a profit is if you’re working there.”
For that reason, Maury suggested, anyone interested in getting into the business should consider buying an existing restaurant rather than opening a new one. When he took over Corrientes, he said, it was losing money – and in the first year that he was owner, it still lost money. But it finally started to earn a profit last year – and its reputation has now become well-established among dining aficionados.
“Still,” despite having made changes to the Corrientes menu, “I had to be very careful what I changed,” Maury explained. “It was a pizza restaurant” and, although there are so many fabulous Argentinean foods that he tried to introduce to the menu in the first year he owned it, he realized that pizza was what diners were expecting as the staple item there, and that’s what he’s kept as the main dish.

In addition to Corrientes, in 2017 Alphonso and his wife Roxana opened up a fast-serve outlet in a strip mall near St. Vital Centre called La Pampa, which serves 21 different kinds of the well-known Argentinean specialty, “empanadas”. Roxana manages La Pampa and, as Alphonso explained during his talk at the JBN meeting, La Pampa also provides all the empanadas that are served at Corrientes.

As I’ve already noted, Alphonso Maury is extremely conscious of containing costs in any restaurant with which he’s associated. He related this anecdote of how he educated Noel Bernier about one simple facet of containing costs:
When he started working at Hermanos, he noted, all staff were entitled to take one free bowl of soup a day. “The soup was actually costing $6 a serving to prepare,” Maury explained. “Can you imagine how much that comes out to over the course of a year?” he asked the audience.
“So we started charging $3 a bowl to staff,” he said.
“But, if you’re not there, you won’t be able to keep tabs on costs,” Maury warned any budding restaurateurs who may have been in the audience that evening. “The margins are very low,” he repeated.
Further, in addition to reining in costs, Maury stressed the importance of having a “concept – because that’s going to create your identity.”
Following his remarks Maury fielded questions from the audience. Someone wanted to know why he was so much in favour of buying an existing restaurant, rather than opening one from scratch?
Maury explained his reasoning this way: Say you want to buy a deep fryer for your restaurant. A deep fryer might cost only $1,000, but when you add in all the ancillary expenses, you’re looking at more like $40,000 for that deep fryer. Why? You’ll need an expensive air exchange system, changes to the engineering, and then you’ll be saddled with all those permits and inspections from the city. (To read more about how onerous the city’s inspection and permit process can be, ready my earlier report about the talk Sandy Shindelman gave to the JBN in August. You can read it online at After reading that article, you’ll wonder why anyone would want to set up shop in Winnipeg in the first place.)
I asked Maury how, considering he had been in Winnipeg only a very short time, he was able to obtain financing to buy Corrientes?
He answered that the bank (RBC) put up 65% of the financing. The rest he was able to do himself. But again, he emphasized how crucial it is for the owner of a restaurant to be working there or, if you can’t be directly involved in the day-to-day operation of the restaurant, make sure your chef is on top of the numbers.
“Winnipeg has a lot of restaurants,” Maury noted, “but not a lot of good chefs. It’s not just about good food; it’s about numbers.
“So,” he said as one final piece of advice,” if you open a restaurant, give the chef a financial stake.”

Luis Rubin’s presentation was of a more technical nature - with some pointers given  to anyone interested in opening a business. Although he has been an accountant for 30 years - both in his native Argentina and in Winnipeg, it’s only in the past two years that Rubin has begun working on his own. He noted that he has helped many other immigrants who have started businesses since arriving in Winnipeg.
Rubin gave some basic tips to any would-be entrepreneurs: For instance, take advantage of the tax benefits accruing to corporations rather than remaining unincorporated by benefitting from the 10% federal tax rate applied to small businesses; be aware of the lifetime $850,000 exemption from capital gains tax when selling a small business; and consider taking dividends from your corporation rather than a salary.
On that note Rubin suggested that small business owners ought to consider whether they want to pay themselves a wage and, as a result, have to remit CPP to the federal government. Although many individuals do like the idea of receiving CPP upon retirement, Rubin suggested that having to remit 10% of your income (up to $50,000) may not be in your best interest.
“Many people don’t like the idea of the government managing their retirement,” he suggested.
At the same time though, while Rubin did say there were many advantages to a small business owner incorporating, there were also some disadvantages, warning that it will cost you more money in the long run if your business is not “solid and stable”.
Luis Rubin can be contacted at 204-229-3239.

Add comment

Security code