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Fuel for thought

May 14th, 2012 · No Comments

NEW OWNERS TURN TO NEW METHODS TO ATTRACT CUSTOMERS

New restaurant Fuel House on Clinton has an eclectic menu and even more eccentric approaches to marketing their food. Mike Shulman/Gleaner News

By Mike Shulman/ Gleaner News

Mackenzie Chiu and Mike Dolegowski are the new owners of the Fuel House (53 Clinton St.), a restaurant and takeout joint with an eclectic menu, and an unpretentious atmosphere tucked away behind Café Diplomatico.

Chiu and Dolegowski represent a new generation of restaurateurs who have blended multiculturalism and social media into a very trendy space.

“We definitely get influence from anything like food magazines, any sort of new media—you see it, you try it, you test it out,” says Chiu. “It’s just stuff we love to eat. Everything that we’ve had along the way getting here and our travels have had a huge influence on the menu.”

The Fuel House owners have used travel as a muse. On a trip to China six years ago, Chiu and Dolegowski were at a dinner that left a lasting impression on them. The dinner featured a lamb roast where they “brought the whole lamb out, fully cooked, showed it to us, and then brought it back chopped it up and brought it back out on a huge platter with a ton of spices and a pair of gloves,” says Chiu.

Chiu and Dolegowski decided to bring this experience to the Fuel House, but with their own personal twist. They’re offering pig roasts that feed eight to ten people at $45 a person with three days advance notice.

According to Chiu, “Toronto has a love affair with pigs right now. There are pigs in every restaurant. Pork belly is huge. Any kind of pork is big in Toronto right now. So we decided to do some pig roasts – should be fun.”

Fuel House has stayed trendy while applying their own touch. Everything except the bread, which is purchased from a local bakery, is made in-house. Their staple is the Pork Belly Banh Mi which, according to Chiu, is “not pulled pork like everyone else is doing,” because it is cured for 24 hours, then made into a confit for another five hours.

The Calamari Po’Boy originates from a southern recipe for Shrimp Po’Boy that the duo discovered on a trip to New Orleans. They decided to swap the shrimp for the crispy fried calamari.

Chiu admits that it has been difficult to attract the traditional customer off the street. “It’s a huge food neighbourhood. People come to this neighbourhood to eat. Being off of College is definitely a bit of a challenge. Getting people to walk that extra ten feet has proven to be tough.”

“That’s just about getting that initial buzz to make a push to get a pull right away. The other restaurants have the big name chefs to back it up. It’s tough when you’re a small independent and you’re not on the main drag.”

To offset their relatively hidden location, Fuel House is highly visible in social media, with the intention to attract young food lovers. The Fuel House is available on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Blackberry Messenger.

“That’s just about getting that initial buzz to make a push to get a pull right away. The other restaurants have the big name chefs to back it up. It’s tough when you’re a small independent and you’re not on the main drag.”

For Chiu, social media also offers him the freedom to add even greater creativity to the menu. “I like adding stuff and taking away stuff and doing frequent specials.  I think in the end as much as we don’t want to be gimmicky—you just got to do it.”
Some of their social media specials include: a Foursquare special which allows you to get a free order of fries the first time you check into The Fuel House on Foursquare; a Blackberry Messenger line dedicated for takeout orders; and weekly specials and other updates on Twitter and Facebook.

The Fuel House is looking forward to attracting new customers with the opening of their patio, weekly barbeque specials, seafood buckets and brunch—starting at 10 a.m. in May.

Chiu is hopeful that their creative pub style menu, assortment of signature drinks and cozy atmosphere will keep the clientele happy. “We just do everything with love. Hopefully they come in and have a great experience and that’s all I can ask for.”

Photo: Mike Shulman/ Gleaner News

Tags: Food