Paintbox Bistro Gives Regent Park Neighbourhood a Splash of Colour

Since opening date in fall of 2012, Paintbox Bistro has been a big part of the revitalization of Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood. Chris Klugman, the proprietor and chef of Paintbox Bistro, a BCorp certified for-profit social enterprise, has brought more than just a restaurant and catering service to Regent Park– he is also serving up opportunity for employment, education, and newfound livelihood for local residents.

Interior of Paintbox Bistro. Photo courtesy of Chris Klugman.

Rather than focusing on shareholders alone, social enterprises like Paintbox Bistro structure their business strategies to focus on the well being of stakeholders impacted by the business including the local community and environment.  While there are several requirements to earn classification as a BCorp Certified business, possessing a strong sense of social enterprise and strong environmental mandate are essential. BCorp Certification for a business can be compared to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for a building. Notably, BCorp classification is not easy to uphold.

Klugman is quick to let people know that Paintbox Bistro is the first restaurant in Canada to receive BCorp Certification, as well as the only catering company in the world to receive the certification. In order to successfully obtain BCorp certification, Klugman had to ensure that his business demonstrated transparency, accountability, and sound judgment of Paintbox’s practices. At UGSRP’s annual forum held in April 2013, Klugman mentioned that part of his obligation is through a legally binding contract, whereby he is obliged to take into account the impact of his business practices to all stakeholders, which includes the environment and the community. A question that he frequently revisits is, “What does the restaurant of the future look like?” Paintbox Bistro is part of a community of social entrepreneurs that are redefining the way businesses practice, and he likes to think of future restaurants and businesses as “benefitting all and hurting none.”.

At Paintbox Bistro, you will be able to find and eclectic mix of scrumptious treats on their sit-down menu, and express menus. From mushroom and spinach frittatas at breakfast, to buttermilk chicken sandwich with all of the fixings for lunch, and line-caught perch garnished with a caper tomato vinaigrette, there is a little something for everyone at Paintbox. While you enjoy your meals, on certain evenings you will find the small stage at Paintbox booming with live Jazz music.

But Paintbox Bistro serves the community more than just a culinary adventure and great tunes. His focus of Paintbox Bistro is to educate, train, and provide career development to local residents of Regent Park– all while sharing his culinary passions. He made it possible for his business to help others by working closely with Toronto Employment and Social Services, allowing him to give those who are part of a marginalized group an equal opportunity at starting a career in the hospitality industry. Most employees who come aboard have no prior experience working in a restaurant setting, whether it is on the kitchen line or in front of house operations.

Interior of Paintbox Bistro. Photo courtesy of Chris Klugman.
Interior of Paintbox Bistro. Photo courtesy of Chris Klugman.

Staff inexperience does not deter Klugman—it motivates him. He is also a part-time professor at George Brown College, offers incentives to those who accept a position at Paintbox Bistro, such as wage increases for each semester completed in a culinary program, which most employees undertake at George Brown College. At Paintbox, there is a job rotation technique that allows staff members to experience every aspect of the restaurant’s functioning. Staff responsibilities range from service, to working in the kitchen, and even to administrative work. This allows individuals to find a niche within the restaurant where they are enjoying their work and feel most comfortable. Many of the employees’ backgrounds involve facing poverty, and former reliance on welfare assistance programs.

Klugman is trying to make a difference by helping individuals escape the cycle of poverty, and finds his success so far to be very rewarding. He stated at a previous UGSRP forum, with respect to the individuals working at Paintbox, “I have never worked with a group of people who care so deeply about the business as they do at Paintbox.”

The community and surrounding neighbourhoods of Toronto are responding very positively to Paintbox Bistro. Chris Klugman has not only revitalized a neighbourhood by introducing a social enterprise restaurant, he has created a family. At Paintbox Bistro, every employee is proud to be called a “Paintboxer”.

Check out some other socially focused restaurant projects and remember to follow us on Twitter @SustainableRest.

– Julie Moroz

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