Ottawa restaurateur helps hospitality industry with $10K bursary for Algonquin College students

Metropolitain Brasserie co-owner Sarah Chown funds bursary at alma mater to support students interested in working in tourism and hospitality

Sarah Chown is the owner of the Metropolitain Brasserie. File photo

The managing partner of Metropolitain Brasserie Restaurant is doing her part to help an industry grappling with serious labour shortages by funding a $10,000 bursary for students studying hospitality at Algonquin College.

Sarah Chown, who’s an alumna of the college, is hoping other business owners follow suit, recognizing that the sector needs to invest in the future generation of leaders while many restaurants, hotels and other hospitality providers struggle to rebuild their workforce following the unprecedented impact of the pandemic. 

“It just sort of occurred to me, ‘Hey, there’s more I can be doing here,’” said Chown in an interview to discuss her creation of the new Metropolitain Brasserie Hospitality and Tourism Bursary. “I would encourage and challenge other businesses to do the same, as well.”

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Chown graduated with a diploma in hotel and restaurant management in 2002. She now sits on Algonquin College’s program advisory committee for its four-year bachelor degree program in Hospitality and Tourism Management. As well, she’s the Ottawa regional chair of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association.

Chown not only relies on graduates from Algonquin College to come and work for her, but knows there will come a day when they will have to lead as the next generation. She wants to make sure they’re ready to do so.

“Coming out of (I hope) this whole pandemic situation, we all know this industry took a massive hit,” said Chown. “It became the sector that people were afraid to get into or that people left. I think we need to do all we can now to encourage people to return, to let them know it’s a viable and fun place to work.”

There’s no shortage of examples of hospitality graduates going on to achieve greater things, said Chown. “I graduated 21 years ago from Algonquin College and I own a successful business in Ottawa and I’m not alone. I’m not the only person who has this story. The more we get that out there, the more that we give back, the better we’re all going to be.”

Chown, who was born and raised in Ottawa, got her start at the former Empire Grill on Clarence Street in the ByWard Market, working the floor as well as in the office. While she explored a few other options after high school, she came to realize her career path pointed toward the restaurant industry. She owns Metropolitain Brasserie, located at the corner of Sussex Drive and Rideau Street, with prominent restaurateur John Borsten, for whom she worked back in her Empire Grill days.

Even before the pandemic, the hospitality and tourism industry was already facing labour shortages, pointed out Michael Tarnowski, academic chair of the School of Business and Hospitality at Algonquin College.

It’s common for employees to view the sector as being great for part-time work, but not necessarily as a long-term career. “That’s always been the reality of the industry and it’s been kind of exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Tarnowski, adding that some industry leaders “moved on” during COVID, leaving position gaps that need to be filled by experienced and qualified individuals.

“The last few years, with the pandemic, have really impacted not only demand for the (hospitality and tourism) programs, but also the number of people willing to work in the industry,” said Tarnowski. “The industry is kind of at a crossroads here, where it kind of needs to make itself look sexy.”

Tarnowski, who’s had the kind of exciting career a young hospitality student might dream of, could not have started in a more humble way. His first job in the industry was washing dishes. “Actually, truth be told, I started off as a pot washer, and then you get promoted to dishwasher.”

Well, at least he was at the famed Fairmont Château Lake Louise. 

Tarnowski went on to study tourism management at college and earn his MBA in the same field.

Hospitality students coming out of Algonquin College are not likely going to open restaurants right out of school, but they will have the tools they need to become strong industry leaders, said Tarnowski. “Sarah is a perfect example of that.”

The $10,000 gift from Metropolitain Brasserie Restaurant will support 10 students studying hospitality over the next five years. It will provide a $1,000 bursary to two students a year, one in the bachelor of Hospitality and Tourism Management program and the second in the Hospitality – Hotel and Restaurant Operations Management diploma program.  

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