When I went to public school after the AGBU Alex Manoogian School, I was more prepared than the rest of the class, because my English and French and math were more advanced.
Ari Goudsouzian is a restauranteur extraordinaire. Co-owner and chef at Restaurant Bungalow, a neighborhood favorite in Montreal, Ari has a passion for food culture and the art of cooking. A graduate of the AGBU Alex Manoogian School, Ari credits the excellent education he received as a student for preparing him to succeed beyond the Armenian cocoon of the school. In our interview, Ari reflects on his time at the AGBU Alex Manoogian School, explains the joys and challenges of owning his own restaurant and gives readers insight into what it takes to shine in the restaurant business.
What was your experience like going to the AGBU Alex Manoogian School in Montreal?
I grew up Armenian—that was the best part. I felt like I grew up prepared for the outside world, because I had a great education in English, French and Armenian. When I went to public school after the AGBU Alex Manoogian School, I was more prepared than the rest of the class, because my English and French and math were more advanced. There was no difficulty transitioning to public school because I already spoke the languages very well. I was reading and writing three languages by the age of five. Once my mind became a sponge, everything came easier.
How did you develop an interest in cooking and the restaurant business?
I went to college for computer science, but I worked in an office for three or four months and realized it wasn’t my passion. I needed to work standing up—in front of a stove. I followed my first passion of cooking and my career took off from there. Here and there a couple of good chefs guided me and took me under their wings. The next thing I knew I had an opportunity to open a restaurant about 10 years ago: Restaurant Bungalow. I haven’t looked back since. At Bungalow, we have a cult following, because we are really bon-vivant. The restaurant is almost like receiving someone in your own home. There is an open kitchen, so people always want to gather around it and have fun.
What are the joys and challenges of owning your own restaurant?
It’s pretty much everyone’s goal in the industry to work for yourself. Once you get the bug, there is no going back. You want the power of making your own hours, taking your own breaks, etc. But there are challenges. There are fewer and fewer days off. It is your business. It is your baby. If a group wants to come in on a day you’re closed, you come in. You can’t always just hire staff to do your job. People want to come and see you. My partner Nick and I, we’re the face of the establishment and the place works because we’re a nice, tight-knit, happy family. The place wouldn’t work with strangers here. 90% of our clients know us by our first names.
What is food culture like in Montreal?
Montreal has been a foodie city for a long time. It’s had its ups and downs, but it’s always been a mecca for food. We like to eat. We like to have good wine, good food and good products. In Canada, it is pretty easy to get all the products we want in the world. With the melting pot of cultures and nationalities that we have here, the food just gets better and better every year. My parents are Armenians from Cairo, so already with that there are lots of vegetables, nuts and spices that come into the mix. Plus, growing up in Canada, I would go to Italian restaurants, Greek restaurants, restaurants with food from all over the world. Everyone brings something to the table. Now at Bungalow it’s a mix of everything. There is pasta, meat, sometimes we bring in some Indian flavors or Middle Eastern flavors. Whatever strikes our mood. Sometimes you’re angry, so you cook a lot of spicy food! So far the feedback has been unbelievable—we couldn’t have asked for more.
What advice would you give to those looking to enter the restaurant business?
Jump in like you would any relationship: with reckless abandon. The more you put your heart into it, the more you will get out of it. If you hesitate and say ‘I’m scared I might lose,’ chances are you’re going to lose, but you can’t lose what you don’t put down. A lot of restaurants fail in the first year, that’s what they always say, but if you have a good product, a good team and are confident in the service you’re providing, people are going to see it. Go for it!
Are there traits that you think make for successful restauranteurs?
You need to have a thick skin. With the hours that you keep, you don’t spend too much time with your family, because on holidays you’re pretty much at the stove. You work early mornings and late nights. You end up developing a hectic lifestyle and you have to keep up with that lifestyle. The business always comes first. Plus, I’m a chef/owner, so I’m at the stove every night because that’s what people want to see. But that adrenaline pumping is what keeps me going.