New restaurateurs rarely launch 20 eateries in a single year. They also rarely have $100 million at their disposal, or former premier Mike Harris enthusiastically on board. Michael Lublin, however, is not a typical restaurateur. He’s the man behind new Italian fast-food chain Trambusto.
Lublin—or “Lubby,” as Harris calls him—is a character. The multi-page email he sent in response to our inquiries about the coming-soon signs appearing in Toronto storefronts was written largely in the third person, like a parable. “One day, a seasoned executive with one of Canada’s top food service brands was disenchanted with life,” it begins. The disillusioned executive was Lublin himself, and the food service brand was fro-yo chain Yogurty’s, where he worked as Chief Operating Officer. His luck turned around when he met Kamiar Zahedi, a portfolio manager with Royal Bank, who came to him with a staggering proposal: one wealthy family was willing to front $100 million to fund a new Canadian restaurant chain, and Zahedi was looking for a partner. In Lublin’s words: “I was asked, if I became the 100 million dollar man, would I change food services in Canada forever?”
Lubby answered with a resounding yes. The game plan is ballsy: the inaugural Trambusto, which launched last month at 9001 Dufferin Street in Vaughan, has a sleek design and a menu of Italian salads, stone-oven pizzas and homemade pastas priced between eight and 12 bucks (the executive chef is Shahir Massoud, former executive chef at Teatro). Leases for six more locations have already been signed, including two downtown Toronto outposts set to launch before Christmas—one in the old Hadley’s space at College and Dovercourt and the other just down the street at the corner of Dovercourt and Sudbury. Thirteen additional locations are in the works: one in downtown Barrie, another in Burlington, and six more in Toronto, including spaces at Yonge and Sheppard, Jarvis and Charles, and Queen and Bathurst. Altogether, 20 outlets are set to open over the next several months.
One thing Lublin has that always helps: connections. In his Facebook profile picture, he’s shown sandwiched between Doug and Rob Ford. Then there’s former premier Mike Harris, the chairman of the board at Tramez Restaurant Corp. (the company that owns and operates the Trambusto chain) and self-described “guide, confidante and intimate,” who responded to our inquiries with a lengthy email sent from his new Fasken Martineau domain. Harris met Lublin back in his Yogurty days and, in short, admired his hustle: “This guy’s a big dreamer,” he said, “but truth is, he’s out there fulfilling the dream. I kind of just felt compelled to play a part.” So far, Harris is finding the new venture exciting, although he admits that it’s been a challenge with his schedule.
Lublin, on the other hand, is just warming up. In addition to the Trambusto chain, he’s currently developing four additional brands, including a Cuban restaurant and a German pub. Over the next five years, he plans to roll out 500 outlets—100 for each brand. An ambitious agenda, but Harris is confident that his pal can deliver: “Most 50-year olds are coasting or winding down,” he said. “Lubby always seems to be winding up.”