By Cathy Dobson, from www.theobserver.ca The Observer
Chris Treftlin believes in serendipity. Happy coincidences can happen for a reason, he says.
Treftlin was driving past the Lambton Mall parking lot last summer where Montana’s Cookhouse had been shut down for four years and he noticed a group of men standing nearby.
“They were pointing at the building and out of the corner of my eye I saw someone I knew from my days at Pizza Hut in Toronto.” He pulled in and, sure enough, there was Vito Romita, the Pizza Hut owner that Treftlin had worked for about 20 years earlier.
“He was an mentor in my early days,” he said.
Romita, who owns numerous Montana’s in the GTA, was looking at the Sarnia franchise. “He told me he wanted to reopen Montana’s here but he couldn’t do it without local support. He said he wanted someone to be an owner,” said Treftlin. “He felt an operating partner with a minority ownership would have some skin in the game and would treat it like their own.”
Treftlin was in.
He has an extensive background in restaurant operations and in more recent years he was operations manager for a retirement company and founded his own seniors services business in Sarnia called “Shine at Home.”
It took several months to get the paperwork done and for Treftlin to complete franchisee training from Cara, parent company to Montana’s Cookhouse. Extensive renovations to the 13-year-old Sarnia restaurant began about a month ago.
Since Cara shut Sarnia’s Montana’s down in 2009, the company has continued to pay the rent and keep the heat on.
“The bones of the building are in great shape and will remain the same,” Treftlin said. But renovations are “in the six figures.” Virtually all of the kitchen equipment is being replaced, a new computer system is going in, the originally wood floors are being sanded and new lighting is being installed.
Treftlin has hired a four-member management team, including assistant manager Dan LeBlanc. On Dec. 11, The Workplace Group and Montana’s is hosting a job fair at the restaurant, which fronts Exmouth Street.
Ninety staff members are needed including servers, bartenders, hostesses, line and prep cooks, as well as dishwashers. Treftlin said at least 100 people have already dropped off resumes. Training begins Jan. 3. Opening day is Jan. 11.
“I am relentless about finding passionate people to work here,” he said. “No one will care more than me and I want a staff that’s the same. I want people who will move mountains to overcome any bad experience a customer may have had with the old location.
“After all, we know it didn’t shut down because it was great.”
Treftlin said he was always a fan of the steak and ribs menu at Montana’s.
“I ate here with my family when it was open and I can tell you I was one of those customers who had one of my best meals ever here, and then a few years later I had one of my worst dining experiences here too.”
In his opinion, Montana’s closed in 2009 because of a “perfect storm.” The recession had hit, Walmart had moved to a new location and left a big vacancy at Lambton Mall, and the franchisee had run into some operational problems.
Times are different now, Treftlin said. “Cara has always said Sarnia is the perfect market. Based on the buzz I’m hearing, we expect to be very busy as soon as we open.”
Montana’s Cookhouse will hold its job fair this Tuesday from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. For details, visit www.theworkplacegroup.ca or call 519-337-7377.