A business venture two-and-a-half years in the making, Boston Pizza International Inc. opened its new restaurant and sports bar here Monday.
But the real celebration took place Friday evening when, surrounded by family, friends, and other invited guests, local franchisees Dale Fortes and Elizabeth Leishman-Fortes commemorated the occasion with heartfelt speeches and even a few tears.
“I want to take the opportunity, first and foremost, to thank each and every one of you for joining us this evening for this very, very exciting and joyous occasion,” said Fortes.
“It’s been a long road for Elizabeth and I and our team to get to this point, but I cannot tell you how excited we are to be here finally,” he added.
Fortes said that when he drove to Fort Frances from Winnipeg 12 years ago to work at the local Canada Safeway store, he thought it might have been the worst day of his life. But, in fact, it became the best day.
“Not only did I meet all kinds of great friends and family and business associates, I met my lovely wife, Elizabeth,” he remarked, adding that although they eventually moved away from Fort Frances to pursue opportunities elsewhere, they always intended to return.
“Ideally, that was the day when we could open a business here. Something we felt, believed in our hearts, that Fort Frances needed and something that would provide us the opportunity to give back to the community that is so giving,” said Fortes.
“So, we are very happy to be here, and we are very, very proud of this wonderful building that was built, and is now going to be home to a lot of people in Fort Frances.
“We open our doors and welcome everybody in to have a good time and create some memories with us,” he enthused.
Scottie Drummond, lead trainer of Boston Pizza International, conducted the grand-opening ceremony, thanking the suppliers and contractors, and recognizing Boston Pizza staff, prior to welcoming the Fortes to the Boston Pizza family and wishing them success.
“At Boston Pizza International, we strive to choose the best possible people as franchisees,” said Drummond. “One must not only have a keen sense of business, they also must possess the heart and soul of this restaurant. . . .
“Elizabeth and Dale, I want to take this time to thank you for letting me be a part of your dreams,” he added.
“I have opened 22 Boston Pizzas and never have I witnessed two people so driven to succeed, not only as business men and women, but as leaders, as examples for young people investing in small communities in Northern Ontario,” Drummond continued.
“Elizabeth and Dale, you make me proud to be Canadian and are a true inspiration.”
Drummond then presented them with watches and a plaque commemorating the opening of Fort Frances Boston Pizza.
The Fortes, along with their daughter, Isabella, and nephew, Jayden, also did the honour of cutting a ceremonial pizza.
On behalf of the Town of Fort Frances, Mayor Roy Avis extended sincere congratulations to the couple.
“During these unsettled economic times, it is gratifying to see a young couple return to Fort Frances and invest in the future of this community,” he remarked.
“This is the true spirit of entrepreneurship.”
With 22 years of retail service experience, the Fortes are confident the franchise will be a bona fide success.
“We are so excited to grow this business in a place we believe is brimming with potential,” said Fortes.
“We believe that through Boston Pizza, we will be in the position to give back to this region that has been so supportive of us,” he added.
The new business also plans to play an active role in the community, and already had started before even officially opening its doors.
At the grand-opening celebration on Friday, staff donated more than $5,200 in gratuities split between the Salvation Army and the United Native Friendship Centre (a total of $4,773 was collected from the six “dress rehearsals” held during the week, with another $500 in tips added to that total from Friday night alone to top the fundraising goal of $5,000).
Both parties said the donation was greatly appreciated and would be put to good use.
“Some years ago, we did a community consultation and found we have a lot of people fighting poverty and hunger in our community, and we decided to help in that area, along with the Salvation Army, who does an excellent, excellent job, and I’d like to thank them,” said UNFC executive director Sheila McMahon, who accepted the cheque along with UNFC homelessness outreach worker Rachel Spuzak.
“We need to ensure all of our community members have food on the table, especially this time of year,” McMahon stressed.
“Christmas is coming up and it’s very, very important,” she added, noting those going hungry may be strangers or be friends and neighbours.
“I know the community needs it [the donated funds], especially at Christmas time,” echoed Capt. Angel Sandoval of the Salvation Army, adding that last year they helped about 620 families across Rainy River District.
The Fortes’ have pledged to be major supporters of the community year-round, including minor sports teams, schools, and local charities.
They also will help raise funds for Kids Help Phone, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada through donations to the Boston Pizza Foundation.
This foundation has raised more than $9 million for various Canadian charities since it began in 1990.
The business, located at 840 King’s Highway, will employ 107 staff, including 28 full-time employees.
These staff trained day and night for two weeks prior to the opening. Including Friday night, they greeted, served, and prepared food and drinks for more than 600 guests last week.
“They work hard, they play hard, and we think these guys and gals are simply the best,” Drummond said during Friday night’s celebration.
“We spent a lot of time over the last couple weeks learning what we need to do to provide the world-class dining experience for our guests,” said Fortes. “You guys have made Elizabeth and I so proud. . . .
“You are the faces, the effort, and you are the inspiration,” he added. “Thank you. We do appreciate everything you do.”
The new restaurant features Boston Pizza’s latest interior and exterior design model that seats roughly 250 in the dining room, sports bar, and patio.
It is open from 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m.-2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.