Suzy Afifi is currently the Director of Operations Pizzeria Gusto and The Merchant Kitchen. Prior to working at the restaurant, she spent 4 years completing her Bachelor of Science degree at McGill University. Over the first three summers of her undergraduate degree, Suzy came back to Winnipeg and worked in the hospitality industry. After graduating, she began working full-time with Bobby, in 2008, to help open Pizzeria Gusto and since then The Merchant Kitchen in 2015. During this time, she has been instrumental in building a loyal clientele for the restaurant through her innate ability to connect with people.
Number of years in Winnipeg?
All my life minus 4 years in Montreal for University (you can't ask a woman her age!!)
How has Winnipeg evolved in the last few years?
There has never been more exciting time inside Winnipeg, Manitoba. Our quiet confidence and work ethic has lead the way to a civic pride that is stronger than ever. There is an energy and drive among the residents of this city that has galvanized them to create beauty through art, food, entertainment, and innovation. Internationally recognized, although created humbly to be enjoyed locally, we have seen a beautiful craft cocktail and coffee scene emerge (The Roost + Forth for cocktails, Thom Bargen, Parlour/Little Sister, Dogwood, Deluca's, and Fool + Horses for coffee, art displayed all over building walls (Synonym Art Consultation + Graffiti Gallery), microbreweries born (Little Brown Jug, One Great City, etc), the embracing of our harsh winters with dinner on the frozen river (Raw Almond), the diverse Assiniboine Park redevelopment project, and not least of which the investment into revitalizing our downtown (True North, and many more).
What trends do you currently see in the restaurant industry in Winnipeg?
The confidence and entrepreneurship that this city sees has elevated the food industry to the best it has ever seen. One thing that we see entrepreneurs do so wonderfully here is find and connect new ideas with the people of our city. Not necessarily built on "trends" but using new ideas to create long lasting concepts and experiences, we work alongside incredible chefs and restauranteurs of whom we are so proud. A lot of our favourite places, including ourselves, work hard to create an experience that goes beyond food + drink. Winnipeg restaurants have developed a culinary scene that is as good as any city in the world. Shops like Segovia, Deer and Almond, Wasabi have routinely been on top 10 lists, standing along side institutions like 529 Wellington, VJ's Drive Inn, The Grove, Rae and Jerry's, and the redeveloped Forks Market to name a few...
What would you say to people who say Winnipeg is boring?
Do people still say that! To that I would say: It's not us...it's you! Music, art, food, entertainment, festivals, and innovation is everywhere. The creativity is palpable and people's thoughts that we are boring has built an even stronger comradery among us to share with the world how amazing our city and our people truly are. Also, Go Jets Go!
What are the advantages, for a restauranteur, or even an entrepreneur, to be in Winnipeg (local products, clientele, etc.) ?
I think that largest defining factor and advantage for Winnipeg are Winnipeggers. The loyalty to each other and the pride taken in everyones work only encourages continued growth and success. The city is growing in such a natural and organic way, which lends itself to long lasting and genuine relationships. Walking into restaurants, shops etc is quickly followed by greetings from people you know and smiles and warmth from people you don't. This truly can't be understated; our purveyors, colleagues, employees, neighbours and clientele all play an equal roll in our success and growth. And we have so much fun doing it.
What’s next for Gusto / Merchant group?
Something we are very excited about...stay tuned!