MONCTON – Susan and Gene Cormier opened three restaurants in the span of eight months. It’s for this reason that they’re Huddle’s Newsmakers of the Year for the Greater Moncton area.
“Gene and I have always been extremely busy whenever we have operated restaurants around the world and we’re used to very fast-paced [environment], quick decision making, and taking on multiple projects at once,” Susan said. “So, for us, Euston Park was super fun but we wanted more.”
The couple decided to return to Gene’s hometown Moncton with their son and build their business here after more than a decade of helping other companies open restaurants overseas.
In May, they opened beer garden Euston Park Social, which also offers meals and snacks. The “overwhelming” response from Monctonians of different ages and backgrounds was the best part of this year, they said.
“We quickly almost doubled our staff within a two-week period at Euston Park, to hold on, because the numbers were three times what we expected,” Gene said. “Euston Park met so many needs that we had no idea it would.”
In the summer, they were contracted by the province to re-open a canteen and beverage service at the restaurant on Parlee Beach in Shediac, which was temporarily closed.
With 10 days to open and six weeks to run the shop, Euston Park offered an “elevated beach canteen experience” with a menu that showcases New Brunswick’s best seafood. They’ve signed a longer-term contract and will run the restaurant next year, possibly with a beer garden.
“It’s kind of a spin on our city [location],” Susan said. “So, you’re not going to get your normal fish and chips. We have things like seafood poutine.”
In the fall, they opened Clos, a fine cuisine restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere, and have signed on to serve up the breakfast buffets and food for events at Hilton’s Canvas Moncton hotel.
Euston Park Social is closed until next Spring – it only reopened for a weekend winter market, but Clos is open year-round and bound to keep the couple busy.
The Cormiers brought their core staff from Euston Park to Clos, where they also hired an in-house sommelier and a second executive chef. At peak season, the Cormiers would have around 50 full-time and part-time staff to cover all their offerings. They plan to hire more students to fill seasonal positions next year.
With two restaurants in downtown Moncton, the couple is excited by the growth happening in the area, but they also want to encourage patrons to walk and bike in the city.
“We want people to be able to go to Euston Park to have a beer and then come [to Clos] for dinner. We really want to push the walkability of the city, I think that’s so important, and it’s something that doesn’t happen that much here in Moncton,” Susan said.
The Cormiers also want their restaurants to help put New Brunswick on the map as a culinary destination.
“If we can get into that conversation, I think that’s a job done,” Gene said.
Bringing A Global Experience Home
Having experience opening and re-branding dozens of restaurants in the U.S., Singapore and Qatar means Susan with her front-of-house expertise and Gene with his back-of-house expertise already work well together. But building a team that believes in their vision is also key.
“Doesn’t matter where you are, the ability to work together and quickly as a team, that speed of trust, is paramount,” Gene said.
“The only way we were able to do this so quickly was because we built a very strong team at Euston Park that we were able to bring here to run Clos,” Susan said.
Now developing restaurants of their own, the couple has had to go through the learning curves of entrepreneurship.
“We didn’t do our own marketing before. We always had an accounting department. Now we’ve had to do everything ourselves,” Susan said. “We didn’t outsource anything at the beginning which was very overwhelming. And I think there’s a lot of resources in this community that we could have drawn on that we didn’t.”
They’ve since hired a management and culinary team to run the daily operations of Clos, so they can have a better work-life balance.
“That was the biggest lesson, that we can’t do it all. We’re only two people and we do have a family,” Susan said.
But they remain hands-on for certain things, “because we love it,” Gene said.
Gene still cooks and serves the breakfast at Canvas, even if that means being up before 5 am. Earlier this year, he competed in the Moncton leg of Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, and he cooked for the final event of Eating Heritage’s Food Tourism Symposium. He’s also part of a Radio Canada series about food that airs on Thursday evenings.
“I love watching people’s expressions and seeing them take the first bite, and just watch the little a-ha moment! It’s such a feel-good thing. But that only happens with a good team,” Gene said.
For the future, the Cormiers already have ideas of other restaurant concepts they hope to see in Moncton.
“We open restaurants that we want to dine at. So whenever we’re going to look at new projects, because there will always be more projects in the pipeline, it will be what’s missing in Moncton to us,” Susan said.
“And it will also be what are we passionate about, and what makes business sense,” Gene added. “I grew up here and I’ve seen Moncton grow up, so there’s room for [new concepts] here, which is so cool.”