For Amir Rahim at Grounded, hospitality is ‘in his bloodstream’

Amir Rahim at Grounded Kitchen
Amir Rahim, owner of Grounded, with his daughter at the downtown location. Photo supplied
Editor's Note

The challenges facing the restaurant industry are almost too many to list. In fact, given inflation, a tight labour market, increasing fees, leftover pandemic debt and a host of other items, you’d be tempted to wonder what keeps many Ottawa restaurateurs going. OBJ decided to check in with a few to see what keeps them inspired.

Being a restaurant owner is harder than it’s ever been, but Amir Rahim, owner of Grounded, said it’s worth navigating the challenges for the love of the work. OBJ’s Mia Jensen interviewed Rahim about his new location on Carling Avenue near Churchill Avenue, its use of technology, and why he loves being a restaurant owner. 

The transcript has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: How has the last year been for you?

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A: For 2023, it’s been okay, not bad. We opened a second location on Carling Avenue. I’ve talked to a lot of people over there who kind of say, oh, it must really suck downtown. There’s still a lot of dread and doom when downtown is associated with anything and I can happily report back to them by saying that, actually, it’s not as bad as you think. There are people coming to the restaurant (on Gloucester Street). Lunches are busy, I see a lot of traffic. It’s still full of different types of challenges. If we’re talking about strictly traffic and revenue, it’s not where it was pre-pandemic, but it’s promising for sure. 

Q: What kind of unexpected positive trends have stood out to you recently?

A: There’s a bunch of different things that have happened in the past two years and there’s no real crystal clear answers to things. I read another interview with someone recently and he said that a whole bunch of different phenomena happened at the same time and collided all together. People claim to know what’s going on or have theories, but I don’t think any of us really know what’s happening just yet. 

Just from my perspective on things, we’re seeing traffic, which is important. The cost of goods is always an ongoing thing and I find the one comment we always get from customers is based around value. We pride ourselves on being excellent in our service and product and hopefully that shows. But if there’s anything that anyone has something to complain about, it’s always value. The price of everything has gone up, yet they’re still looking for good deals. 

That being said, people keep coming back. We’re getting decent revenue and that’s been positive. Not everyone is back (to working downtown) but we’re getting traffic at lunch and it’s not from residents. We’ve always had a banger lunch service and I’m getting that same sort of vibe right now. 

Q: What kinds of things are you trying out or experimenting with right now?

A: One of the main things is tech. There’s what’s innovative and new and willing to change, and then on the other side of the coin, there are some things we need to do operationally that are maybe same-old-same-old, but need to be tightened up or modified. 

In terms of what’s innovative, it’s the tech at our Carling location. We have some really cool food box lockers, which has made take-out really easy. We use a web-based program where people can order right off their phone, pay for their food, and they get a text when it’s ready. This little locker opens up and you pick up your food. It’s fun and techie and almost gimmicky, but it’s functional and it’s been working really well. 

We attempted to do a lot more automation to solve staffing challenges using tech, where customers would order from the table using their device, but that didn’t work out the way we wanted. But we were able to come up with a bit of a hybrid, where people can still use tech to order and that’s been exciting. It’s offered a lot of promise when it comes to being more efficient and productive, but still offering hospitality. 

Q: With the holiday season coming up, what are you forecasting for the next couple of months?

Being busy, for sure. We have a lot of fun doing what we do. Sometimes there’s unpredictability. Friday is normally busy and these days it’s our slowest lunchtime. So I’m looking forward to filling some of those gaps with festive gatherings and parties and people wanting to be more social. The festive season has always been about that and I’m really starting to see a trend. People are already booking evening parties, breakfasts, lunches and soirees. If it’s through parties or reservations, it doesn’t matter; I just want to have fun working. 

Q: With all the challenges, what drives you to keep doing what you’re doing?

I really do love it and enjoy it. To be honest, I can do a lot of things, but I can’t do anything as well as I do this. The hospitality industry has been in my bloodstream for a really long time. We’ve been here for 13 years at Grounded Kitchen and I’m really happy and proud of the reputation that we have and I hope to continue to make it grow. I want it to be alive and well and always known as a friendly neighbourhood place. That keeps me going. 

I feel that success has all kinds of different measuring sticks. For me, if I can pay the bills, keep the doors open, and build a future for some of my teammates, then I’m really happy to do that. It is challenging. It’s harder than it’s ever been. But I’ve been doing this for a long time because I love it. 

Hopefully everyone will keep frequenting restaurants. There’s many hot topics as far as the industry is concerned right now, but the main point is that we just want to gather and have a good time. It’s as important for the operators as it is for the customers.

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