WISK white logo-> All episodes <-

April 18, 2024

S1E3 - Science not politics with Toby Lyle

This week we are joined by Toby Lyle founder of the Burgundy Lion Group. We discuss how he started in the hospitality industry, his opening checklist.

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WISK white logo-> All episodes <-

April 18, 2024

S1E3 - Science not politics with Toby Lyle

This week we are joined by Toby Lyle founder of the Burgundy Lion Group. We discuss how he started in the hospitality industry, his opening checklist.

Apple Podcast player linkSpotify Podcast player linkGoogle Podcasts player link

Show notes

Episode Notes

Toby Lyle, owner of the Burgundy Lion Group, shares his journey in the hospitality industry and the lessons he learned along the way. He emphasizes the importance of treating restaurants as businesses and the need for a strong work ethic. Toby discusses the challenges of opening and running multiple venues, including the importance of finding good talent and the complexities of managing finances and permits. He also expresses his frustrations with the government's handling of the pandemic and calls for transparency and support for the hospitality industry. Toby shares his favorite venues and his last go-to meal and drink.


  • Treating restaurants as businesses is crucial for success in the hospitality industry.
  • Finding good talent and nurturing their growth is essential for the long-term success of a restaurant.
  • Opening and running multiple venues comes with its own set of challenges, including financial management and obtaining permits.
  • The government's handling of the pandemic and lack of support for the hospitality industry has been frustrating for restaurant owners.
  • Supporting local restaurants by ordering directly from their websites can help them overcome the high fees charged by delivery apps.


00:00 Fortunate to find job at W Hotel.

05:58 Middle to high end Italian restaurants in neighborhood.

07:54 Incorporating company, negotiating leases, getting permits quickly.

09:49 Hospitality industry lacks clear career growth path.

15:44 Unexpected passion for British culture in Canada.

17:40 Lack of on-site owner led to failure.

20:22 Dirty London pub serves incredible, mind-blowing food.

25:37 Support for restaurants, bars, and hospitality industry.

26:01 Quebec pandemic response critique and restaurant struggles.

31:13 Legault uses selective studies to support ideas.

34:37 Adapting plans for protest, go online instead.

37:30 Support local restaurants, order directly, benefit them.


Follow Toby Lyle on Instagram!

Connect with Toby Lyle via Linkedin!

Learn more about Burgundy Lion Group

Learn more about Ca Ne Va Pas Bien Movement


Angelo Esposito [00:00:06]:

Welcome to Wisking It All with your host, Angelo Esposito, Co-founder of WISK.AI, a food and beverage intelligence platform. We're going to be interviewing hospitality professionals around the world to really understand how they do what they do, from chefs to owners, mixologists to bar managers, you name it. We want to provide you guys with a ton of value, anything hospitality related. Welcome to another episode of Wisking It All. We're here today with Toby Lyle from the Burgundy Lion Group. Toby, thank you for being here.

Toby Lyle [00:00:46]:

It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me, Angelo.

Angelo Esposito [00:00:47]:

Of course, one of the ways I love to start the podcast is to just get the story behind how you got into hospitality. You're well known in Montreal and probably outside of Montreal as well. Been in the hospitality scene for a while. But before we get into that, how did you first get into hospitality?

Toby Lyle [00:01:02]:

Yeah, it's a funny story. I was working my way through university. I had a busboy job at McKibben's pub on Bishop. And towards the end of my university life, with my sociology degree, I realized there wasn't much going on in that world. I wasn't going to step out into $100,000 a year job. So I actually never finished my degree, and I ended up sticking around in the industry, worked, like I said, a busboy. I was a bartender, then I was a manager, and then I was a general manager. And then eventually I became an owner.

Toby Lyle [00:01:34]:

Yeah, that's awesome.

Angelo Esposito [00:01:35]:

And so for the people listening, a lot of them have that hope of not all maybe going from bartender to manager to owner. So I'd love to chat a little bit about the early days. What are some lessons that you took on when you were a bartender, when you were a manager that you were able to apply when finally becoming an owner?

Toby Lyle [00:01:52]:

I consider myself very fortunate. I got really lucky in that I was looking to open something after I was managing a place in old Montreal. I had a partner, and I was looking to move forward with it. In the end, it all fell apart with the partnership, and so I was forced to go find a job, and I ended up finding a job as the general manager at the W hotel, which was just opening at the time. When it first opened was hotspot nightclub. What was really interesting about that, and again, like I said, I'm super lucky to have gone through this, is that I was working for Americans, specifically New Yorkers, and they brought something that we did, and now we don't really have in Montreal a philosophy towards running a restaurant, running a bar, running a club that is more corporate, yet maintains the free loving, fun aspects of restaurants and bars. But definitely their focus is always business first. And I find that's the big mistake, that people who get into the restaurant industry, lots of people get into it and they want to open their own restaurant, their own bar, and they sometimes neglect the fact that it is at its essence.

Toby Lyle [00:02:57]:

It is a business like any other business and has to be run that way.

Angelo Esposito [00:03:01]:

And that makes a ton of sense. And one of the things I often think about is starting off. The passion is definitely a great start. But to your point, once you do open up a place, there's so many unknown variables on the business side. And so I'd love to hear from your perspective when from your first location to opening your 2nd, 3rd. Let's start off with the first one. What were some things that you didn't anticipate going from a manager to an owner?

Toby Lyle [00:03:25]:

Yeah, you learn really fast. As much as I was working with these guys from New York, and in fact, they were still in New York, so I pretty much had the run of the place at the w. There's still a large proportion of the business that I guess I didn't see. I wasn't prepared for it when I went in. And especially at the beginning, we were working on a really small budget. We're doing everything on our own. I was creating bookkeeping software on an Excel sheet, and I was doing all my bookkeeping on an Excel sheet. The, obviously construction costs were exorbitant, dealing with government, with taxes, that sort of thing, permits.

Toby Lyle [00:03:58]:

That was an adventure. That was something I don't think you'll ever be ready for.

Angelo Esposito [00:04:02]:

And I think that's what's crazy about any business. But hospitality specifically, I think so much goes into it. The guest sees that final experience, okay, good food, good music, good vibes. But they don't see the other hundred things. Like you said, between the back end and operations and inventory, and accounting and hiring and construction, and the list goes on, and it's really tough. And so when you first opened your first location, if I'm not mistaken, was burgundy lion pub in 2008. Correct?

Toby Lyle [00:04:26]:

That's right, yeah.

Angelo Esposito [00:04:28]:

And when you guys opened that, just to take it back to 2008, what was there before? Was it a brand new construction? You guys took over a building. How did that work?

Toby Lyle [00:04:34]:

No, there was. That was the funny thing about it. So at the time, I was seeing this girl who worked at Joe Beef, and Joe Beef was the first higher end restaurant down in that neighborhood. And it was right across the street. And every time I go see her at night, at the end of her shift and have a drink at the bar, and I'd look outside and see that place and it looked like a pub. And I kept saying, that's the pub. And at this point, I already decided that I want to move forward and open a pub. And it changed names three times in the space of 16 months.

Toby Lyle [00:05:03]:

And I kept being, oh, I didn't know that. Yeah, I kept being like, ah, I missed it again, I missed it again, I missed it again. And it was three different restaurants, so it was a Bermuda triangle for restaurants, which probably should have scared me away, but eventually I was just like, I gotta skip past these people. And I managed to reach out to the landlord and I said, listen, next time this happens, let me know what's going on. And the timing was fortuitous. And the third business in the space of 16 months was about to close, and so we managed to talk him into giving us a lease and giving us a shot.

Angelo Esposito [00:05:31]:

That's amazing. And I didn't even know that. I didn't realize it was through their spots before. And so maybe, you know, maybe you don't, but you're obviously doing something right. You've been around for. Since 2008. What is that? Twelve years now, which in hospitality is, you know, amazing. Anything above two years, you're crushing it.

Angelo Esposito [00:05:47]:

Big, big kudos to you and the whole team. What do you think? Just to shed some light to our listeners, what do you think were some mistakes that the previous owners did right? Three places that turned over, they were trying to.

Toby Lyle [00:05:58]:

They were somewhere stuck between being middle range to high end italian restaurants. What we really wanted to do in that neighborhood, little burgundy. There's lots and lots of condos. There was a fair amount of income, mostly double income families or couples without kids living in all those condos. And they were sort of basing themselves on Joe Beef. And Joe Beef's a destination restaurant. It's not necessarily made for the neighborhood that it is in, right? It's somewhere that people come, drive down from Westmount, drive from all over the world nowadays to go Joe beach, whereas there was nothing in that neighborhood for these thousands and thousands of condos below Notre Dame, all the way down to the canal for people just to go and have a drink. And I've always been a pub guy.

Toby Lyle [00:06:39]:

I spent my summers growing up in the UK. My dad, my grandfather was a pub landlord during the war. And it's always been something I've wanted to do. And at the time, there was a bunch of irish pubs downtown in Montreal, but there was nothing. There was no british pub or english pub. And so we wanted to modernize the concept of the irish pub and bring more of a sort of a London urban pub feel to give. We're in a city, right? So we wanted to create the urban pub that has been so successful in Manchester, Liverpool, London, Birmingham, all over the place in the UK.

Angelo Esposito [00:07:10]:

Wow, you're going to get so many curveballs thrown at you. For people tuning in, what would you say are some of the key points in terms of a checklist? Right. You opened up a couple of spots now, so I imagine you have some type of rough checklist when you open up a spot, from negotiating lease agreements to hiring to you name it. So I'd love to maybe hear from your perspective and to your best, your ability, maybe some things that you always think about when you're looking for a new spot.

Toby Lyle [00:07:32]:

Yeah, it's funny you mention that because every time, every time I open a new spot, I think to myself, it's always so frenetic and hectic. You're rushing from thing to thing. You're like, oh, I should really write this down and have myself an opening checklist. And then I forget. And then the next time I get there, I'm like, oh, I should really write this down. So I have a checklist. So it ends up, maybe now I'll write it down. This is the time I got some time during a pandemic.

Toby Lyle [00:07:54]:

That's it. You're incorporating a company is the first step, and you want to negotiate your leases. Then you immediately have to start working on permits, even if you're planning to open in five or six months, because these things can take forever. I've seen restaurants sit around and wait a year for their permits because they didn't proactively get on it. The alcohol permits and the restaurant permits and your occupation permits and your map act permits, you got to start that right away. And I've never used a designer, so it's a little bit different. Nothing against the designers, but my philosophy has always been, listen, this is, the concept for this restaurant is coming from us, from our hearts. We have a concept, we have an idea, so we're going to design it ourselves.

Toby Lyle [00:08:33]:

That can be tricky when you're getting into working with construction companies, because you're changing things on the fly. But, yeah, definitely on that list. You want to get your quotes from your construction companies and start your work as soon as you're allowed to get more permits, of course, permits to do the work.

Angelo Esposito [00:08:48]:

I can imagine. I can only imagine. And one of the toughest things in the hospitality industry is finding good talent. Right. It's hard to retain good employees, at least from what I've seen. Do you have any tips on how to, number one, find good talent, and number two, keep it. Keep them.

Toby Lyle [00:09:03]:

Yeah. Finding good talent is always the biggest struggle. And you find, I mean, lucky enough, in twelve years, obviously you're gonna get enough good talent. Walk through the door by contact or just by luck, they walk in the door and they start working with you. Something that I've always believed in and. And has been my philosophy since day one, is that as we've expanded the restaurants, we've always invited and asked some of our more talented people to stop just managing and to join as a partner. And obviously that helps. That motivates everyone, but it helps them, sure.

Toby Lyle [00:09:35]:

But it also helps me in more ways than I can possibly imagine, because these are people that I know are talented. They're driven, they share sensibility, and I don't have to worry about the way that they're going to take the project on and how they're going to move forward with it.

Angelo Esposito [00:09:49]:

And it's funny because I had a good chat with, with Kevin Demaris from the cold room in El Pagangumar and parliament, and we were talking about how what's lacking in the industry is that there's a sense of what other job do you have? It's almost like you can't grow in hospitality. There's this perception almost, okay, like, you do this on the side, but what do you really do? And it's almost. There's this thing lacking where people can see a clear path of, okay, I want to start off as a busboy to a bartender, to maybe managing, if that's my hopes, managing a spot, to maybe running a spot, but think there's a bit of that lacking. And I think it's lacking, especially in Montreal. I don't know if you have any thoughts on that. Do you see it in a similar light? Or.

Toby Lyle [00:10:26]:

I'll be honest with you, it's a lot better than it used to be 20 years ago. Yeah, I would agree 100% with that statement. But in the last decade or so, I've seen it become that the restaurant industry become more of a career choice. If you go over to Europe, it is a career choice. People, they go to university, right, at a high school, they go to university to become even. And it's not necessarily to become an owner, it's to become a waiter. And that's a career choice and it's a career path. But in Montreal, definitely less.

Toby Lyle [00:10:53]:

Ten years or so, I think cocktail culture has brought it in a lot. People that realize that bartending can be more than just pouring pints for people. It can be something you can get passionate about. There's definitely more of an understanding and passion towards the products that people are serving. And once you get into that and you start educating yourself on what you're doing, all of a sudden you look at it and say, hey, maybe this is a career path. Yes, there is still a majority of the staff that you're going to have, or what I call nomadic staff. They are the musicians or artists or at school or whatever they are. But more and more, we're starting to see more and more people that are interested in pursuing this as a career.

Angelo Esposito [00:11:29]:

As a career. And what do you look for? Like, for people who are interested in pursuing this as a career, hearing it from an owner's perspective, I think is valuable. What do you look for? Or what are some kind of signs you get when looking at staff in terms of moving them up the ladder, so to speak?

Toby Lyle [00:11:43]:

Usually you can tell in about five minutes. Honestly, you can tell if there's a motivation there, if there's a willingness to learn. Work ethic is not something you can ever teach. It's just something that you see in somebody, whether they're moving kegs or washing dishes in the back. You can tell if somebody has work ethic, and if they don't have that, they're not going to make it in this industry. I don't have a problem with the ones who want to come in and punch in and do their job as long as they do their job correctly. But you can tell that they're not going to move up in the industry. They're going to be happy doing their present job until they move on or forever.

Angelo Esposito [00:12:16]:

That makes sense. And I think one of the things we love to do on this episode is showcase our guests projects and Burgundy Line group. You guys got a couple venues, you got a catering group. So I'd love to hear and have you share the different venues that you operate and the inspiration behind them. So I was thinking maybe we start off with Burgundy Lions, since that was the first one, right?

Toby Lyle [00:12:35]:

Yeah. So, Burgundy line, we opened in 2008. Again, there was no english pub as opposed to an irish pub or british pub in. In Montreal. It's like I said, it's got more of an urban feel than an irish pub. We're not just trying to copy paste what's happening in Ireland and put it into a space in Montreal. The other thing that was really important about Burlington, what is an urban pub in London and the UK nowadays, is that I've always noticed. I always love pubs, but if you don't want a whiskey or a pint, you're in trouble.

Toby Lyle [00:13:07]:

So we were the first ones to create a cocktail list and a nice wine list and step up the food offering a little bit. And it was about without 2020, to be careful what you say, not be sexist, but it was about making it less of a male driven space and make it more accessible to different genders and different age groups. We. The proudest thing, my biggest point of pride at the burning line is we've had one week old children in there, and we've had 102 year old people in there. So we expand over our client base. When people ask, what's your client base? It's over a century of age. It's different gender, it's different. And we do so many different things with the birding lion, with the whiskey program, but we also have high tea.

Toby Lyle [00:13:50]:

We also have football, soccer matches. There's so much going on there. It was just to really create the perfect local pub, but make it accessible to every single person we could.

Angelo Esposito [00:14:02]:

Very cool. And speaking of whiskey, I believe you guys have over 600 types of whiskey collections.

Toby Lyle [00:14:08]:

Almost 800 now.

Angelo Esposito [00:14:10]:


Toby Lyle [00:14:10]:

The biggest whiskey collection in Quebec, and we actually sell the most single malt whiskey in Canada. Wow. There's bigger collections out there, but we're very focused on. We do a lot of private tastings and public tastings. People can come book an evening with one of the whiskey experts and sit down, learn about whiskey, have some drinks. We also have flights that you can try. Like the idea. Like I said, there's bigger collections out there, but we want people to drink whiskey, not look at it.

Toby Lyle [00:14:35]:

We make sure that it's accessible to everyone.

Angelo Esposito [00:14:37]:

Was that the intention since day one? Like, were you guys building your whiskey collection since day one, or. It kind of started happening naturally, and then the next thing you know, you have 500 skus of whiskey.

Toby Lyle [00:14:47]:

Yeah, I always wanted to have a pretty decent. I'm a whiskey nut, so I've always wanted to have a large whiskey collection. That was always the plan. But when you're opening, you're on a tight budget. We maybe had 40 or 50 bottles there. That was most of our alcohol budget. I'll be honest with you. When we open.

Toby Lyle [00:15:00]:

And then it just built and built. I got lucky enough to buy a private collection or a collection from a restaurant that was closing, that had been open for 38 years. So I got 130 bottles from him that no one else had because he'd been buying from the SAQ for 38 years. And then it just. I'm the worst businessman when it comes to negotiating with reps of whiskey companies. When they come in, they say, toby, you want to try these whiskeys? Because I think you should buy them. I just say, listen, I'm going to buy them regardless. It's going to happen.

Toby Lyle [00:15:26]:

I'm going to get these whiskeys, I'm going to add them to the list, and that's it.

Angelo Esposito [00:15:29]:

Okay, so, side notes, all the whiskey reps out there listening. Toby, Lyle. Okay, easy sell. No Jeff whiskey.

Toby Lyle [00:15:35]:

I'm definitely. But I still want to try it, though. Let's still have a dram before I buy it.

Angelo Esposito [00:15:40]:

That's awesome. Okay, so that was project number one. So what was your second venue?

Toby Lyle [00:15:44]:

It was the Britain chips on McGill. So that came about from one of the strangest things about opening burgundy line was I expected the expats, the british expats that come out, the anglophones that come out. But I didn't realize the extent of the passion for british culture from the french canadian community. It was really surprising to me, and specifically to fish and chips. And our fish and chips just became. We worked on a recipe right at the beginning, taking little pieces from Heston Blumenthal, who's a famous british chef, and for other chefs to really come up with the perfect recipe. And the fish and chips did so well that I said, listen, I gotta open a chippy. Chippy is a very standard, classic british thing that you go to get you, especially on Friday, but on any day of the week, you go and pick up your fish and chips at the local chippy and a location came available.

Toby Lyle [00:16:31]:

It was less than. Yeah, it was less than two years after we opened breeding lion. And so we jumped on it and opened a chippy. We changed it up a bit to make it a little bit more Montreal friendly with maple syrup batters and things like that. But, yeah, it was in old Montreal where there's the business crowd, and like I said, the french canadian business crowd, and they ate it up, literally and figuratively.

Angelo Esposito [00:16:51]:

Well, and I'm assuming in old Montreal, obviously not right now, but in general, a lot of tourists, a lot of american tourists. Did that help? Was that part of your clientele, like the tourist crowd, or.

Toby Lyle [00:17:01]:

Not really, yeah, it balances out everyone going away on the summer, so it's not like it becomes a bigger part of our business. It's not like we're waiting all year for summer for the revenue. It literally is that Montrealers leave and tours come in. So it's very stable. It's great. Very stable in all Montreal, the business.

Angelo Esposito [00:17:17]:

Yeah, that's pretty awesome. And then so is number three. Bishop and bagged.

Toby Lyle [00:17:21]:

No. Yes. No. Number three was, we opened ships on code and edge, which unfortunately is no longer there. So our lease was running out and we decided, and you know what?

Angelo Esposito [00:17:29]:

And I'd love to hear about any lessons there. Right. It's great to always talk about success, but you learn so much through failure. So any kind of lessons that you learned from that location, why it didn't work, that maybe you can share with our listeners?

Toby Lyle [00:17:40]:

Yeah, I can tell you the number one reason it did not work was, you know, I said before that we've always, every project we've opened, we brought someone on from within our group to go and be an owner on sites and to oversee the individual locations. In that case, it was a little bit far, and we didn't actually have an assigned owner on site. We had managers who were great and responsible. But the eyes of an owner are always going to be superior to the eyes of a manager. No matter. No matter how great that manager is, there's going to be things as an owner. And, yeah, I would have to say that was the main lesson, and that will not be repeated and will not be in that situation yet.

Angelo Esposito [00:18:18]:

And I think that's an important lesson because sometimes people get frustrated, like in the tech scene, I hear this all the time, where people get frustrated that employees might not work as hard as the founders. And it's normal. It's like you can't expect, and obviously, you want to see grit, you want to see passion. At the end of the day, you're never going to work as hard as the person who has shares in the company. So it's tough to have that level of expectation. Like, you need a certain level, don't get me wrong, especially if people move up and get there. But I think, like, sometimes there's that unfair expectation that an employee will just work as hard as a founder.

Toby Lyle [00:18:48]:

And you know what? I don't even think it is working as hard. Like I said, it's just that set of eyes. When, you know that napkin costs you two cent and things like that, things change and you start to refocus and just marketing opportunities, things like that. If you're not on site, you just don't go after them. The same way, if you're a hard working manager.

Angelo Esposito [00:19:09]:

Fair enough. And so that location, how long was it around for?

Toby Lyle [00:19:12]:

We're still subletting it because our lease is just coming up in the next couple of years. It was there six years. Six years. And it was. It was never. It wasn't a. It wasn't a failure in any way. It's just in the restaurant industry.

Toby Lyle [00:19:24]:

That's the other lesson. Once if you're breaking even, you're just never gonna. You're never gonna pay off your initial, your Roi. And it's just at a certain point you have to take your ego out of it and just cut your losses when you're. When you realize that has to be done.

Angelo Esposito [00:19:38]:

Well said. And so now are we at Bishop and bag or not?

Toby Lyle [00:19:41]:

Yes. Now we move to bishop. Bishop and bag. It's 2014. Yeah. 2014, yeah. So bishop, bag. So I always wanted to do something in the mile end, something a little bit smaller than the burgny lion.

Toby Lyle [00:19:52]:

The concepts, without using the word because it doesn't work very well in Quebec because of the french translation to it. But gastropub was what we wanted to do, which is you take a pub and you put much more higher end cuisine in there. Not that the Birmingham lion cuisine is not higher end, but you can basically. This thing started in like 1991. There's a place called the Eagle in London. In Clerkenwell, in London. These two guys created this whole concept. There was no such thing as a gastropod until these guys opened the eagle.

Toby Lyle [00:20:22]:

And I go to the eagle every time I'm in London, I go back to the eagle because I love to see it. It's dirty, it's gross. It's not gross, but it's dirty. It looks like it's beat up and then you actually have to go up to the bar to order your food and you go up to the bar, you order your food and you go up to bar to order your drinks. There's no table service. You go sit up your beat up, ripped up chair in this packed restaurant pub and somebody brings to your table just incredible, amazing food and it just blows your mind. And so that's. That was the idea behind Bishop.

Toby Lyle [00:20:55]:

It's really to recreate that vibe it has, even looks wise. It's more of a rural pub. It's not as urban pub as Bergen lion, but it's to have that level of cuisine that you just surprise people. You walk into a pub, you're expecting fish and chips, you're expecting whatever you're going to get and you get this level of cuisine that is well beyond your expectations.

Angelo Esposito [00:21:13]:

And I can attest to that. I've been there several times, and the food is unreal. Funny enough, one of the things that the reason bishop and bag always sticks in my head is because 2014 was the year that I started working on WISK, and it was in the idea phase. And I remember approaching you and just asking you, like, hey, do you do inventory? And how do you do it? And I think you were using another system.

Toby Lyle [00:21:36]:

I remember that meeting. I remember we sat, you, steve, who is my partner there, and who was. Again, he was a general manager at burgundy line and came up and was a partner at admission bag. And the three of us sat there, and we were using another system. And you said, what's wrong? What's wrong with, what do you need to fix? And I think we had a couple meetings, went back and forth a bit, and I'm happy with the result. It's fun to be. To have your hand in developing a product that you're going to use. Right.

Angelo Esposito [00:22:00]:


Toby Lyle [00:22:00]:

Because you get exactly what you want.

Angelo Esposito [00:22:03]:

Yeah. And it was really cool to have you. And this is a testament to the fact that you are, like, really an entrepreneur, because you were open to it. You weren't closed off. I sat down with you, tried to understand some pain points, what could be better, and I think you saw that angle, and you were like, okay, he's an entrepreneur. He's like, me, I'm an entrepreneur. You're an entrepreneur. And I think that was really cool.

Angelo Esposito [00:22:21]:

And it really helped, because those were the early days, and for us, it was super important to not build a product in a silo. Sometimes people just build and then, like, hope to find customers. Our whole thing was like, hey, let's try to build with the customer. In this case, you were a key component of that, and it was, how can we build this thing up so people will get value from day one? But anyway, so that's why Bishop and bag always sticks in my mind, because it's just been cool to. To look back and remember that's.

Toby Lyle [00:22:46]:

That's where it all started. I remember, yeah, I remember where we were sat in that meeting and all that. So I remember as well as you when you were founding your company, where we were sat and while we were talking about, yeah, awesome.

Angelo Esposito [00:22:55]:

That's awesome. Okay, so what are we missing? We did Bishop, which was number four, and then I believe. I know there's the.

Toby Lyle [00:23:00]:

Then we opened Britain, a british.

Angelo Esposito [00:23:02]:


Toby Lyle [00:23:03]:

Oh, yeah. The catering companies. The catering company. We only really pushed in the last two years or so. It's been around for about four years. Catering companies. It's very simple. Just came about for.

Toby Lyle [00:23:12]:

From just getting constant requests. Hey, guys, can you come do what you do at my place?

Angelo Esposito [00:23:17]:

Right. Because of the brand you buy.

Toby Lyle [00:23:18]:

Exactly. So then we decided to make that official and we have a specific catering wing now that unfortunately was just about to blow up. We were just about to sign a big contract in February and it was just about to blow up and we were going to be able to really put. Put some effort and time and money into it. And then somebody ate a bet. So, yeah, that happened. So then. Yeah.

Toby Lyle [00:23:38]:

So then Britain ships on. On. What's the next one? Again, there's not much to say there. It's across the street from Concordia. It's downtown. It's the same. It's a copy. It's the first one I've ever done that's a copy paste.

Toby Lyle [00:23:49]:

Well, the two Britain chips. The Britain chips are copy pasteable.

Angelo Esposito [00:23:52]:

I was going to ask you how did. Sorry, go on.

Toby Lyle [00:23:54]:

It's not as much fun, I'll be honest with you, opening a Britain chips as the other ones. People ask, why do you keep opening restaurants? And my answer is, unfortunately it's after a couple of years that you need to. My creative juices start flowing again. And it's the best part. As much hard and crazy and stressful times opening a restaurant are, it is the most fun part about being a restaurant owner. It's coming up with concepts. Designing menus. That first saq run, it's my favorite.

Toby Lyle [00:24:24]:

The first day you go pick up all your booze, just designing the rooms, things like that, that's my favorite thing. So when it comes to the Britain chips, I'm very happy and I put my same effort into it. But it's obviously, it's not the same thing when you're doing a copy paste idea.

Angelo Esposito [00:24:37]:

Yeah, no, I can imagine that creative itch comes and like you said, touching on all those points and getting that gratification of building something out of nothing and then seeing the end result and people enjoy it, I can only imagine how. How gratifying it is because on a very. On a much smaller scale for me, the parallel is the first time someone used our product, it's like we invested so much money and so much that. But it's. We got one chain customer and you're.

Toby Lyle [00:25:02]:

Like, I'll never forget the first guy walked in the door at breaking line in 2008. I'll never forget when you walked out, I was like, oh, this is it amazing. At least one person. All this works. At least one person's gonna have a bite to eat and drink.

Angelo Esposito [00:25:14]:

That's too good. And on the flip side, creativity wise, totally get it operationally. I can imagine there's some advantages of opening. I don't want to call it a copy paste, but opening the same concept, like so, has that helped in terms of the financials and the operations side of things?

Toby Lyle [00:25:28]:

Yeah. Again, it's a lot easier. That's what I'm saying. With the ease of opening, the fact that it's easier. Also, like I said, it makes it less challenging, is less creative, and maybe less creative.

Angelo Esposito [00:25:37]:

Gotcha. Gotcha. No, I hear you. And then you've been pretty involved standing up for restaurants and bars and the whole hospitality scene. I know you've been pretty vocal about it. Obviously, I got you on Facebook, and I totally support what you're doing, but I'd love for you to maybe share with our listeners, number one, maybe just your take on the whole situation and how Quebec's handling it, which I'm sure you have a strong opinion on, and then maybe just get into what you're doing and how people. And join the fight, so to speak.

Toby Lyle [00:26:01]:

Yeah. Listen, I don't want to get too political. I think that the pandemic in Quebec has been handled poorly since day one. I despise the fact that at every press conference, our leader missile compares us to the United States or other places to say how well we're doing, and seems to lead off every Facebook or every press conference with statements about, we're doing well, we're doing everything we can, something self flattering, and I just feel like it's being mishandled. The government subventions, the help, have been good from the federal side, but are not sustainable in that the cash flow situation is, it doesn't work. The one restaurant we haven't talked about, the Wolfram workman in Montreal, which we opened about a year and a half ago, we're not even doing takeout here. Just because it's not sustainable. When you have to wait eight weeks to pay out your entire your staff and your rent and your amenities and all that, and then wait eight weeks to get a check, it just doesn't work.

Toby Lyle [00:26:59]:

There's been the brief period that we were open. There was a constant message coming from the government, don't go to restaurants. We saw it happen the first two weeks when we were reopened. The first two weeks were good. Then the government said, everyone has been to a restaurant, go get tested. Then things slowly built up. And then somebody came out, the health minister came out and said, don't go to restaurants. And we saw it drop off again.

Toby Lyle [00:27:23]:

And it's not about being whether we're open or not. It's about if we are open. If you're going to open us, you got to support us. You got to say, okay, we're open. We're confident you guys can be open. But the worst thing was being in that gray area where they're like, okay, you guys can open, but we're going to dissuade the public from going to your establishment. How crazy is it that you would open? You take the decision to open an industry and then tell everyone, the government, tell people not to, not to visit these establishments, not to spend any money in this industry. And then it's also the lack of transparency is obviously a problem.

Toby Lyle [00:27:55]:

All of a sudden now they're bringing out data on where infections are coming from, schools or workplaces and all that. And so one of the things I'm working on sort of social media campaigns is we're asking for the retroactive data. Show us the data that shows that restaurants were responsible before you closed us. Yeah, the data is out now that we're closed. Right. So we want to see that there is, in fact, science behind the facts that we're closed. And if you show us the science saying, listen, a large percentage of outbreaks were coming from restaurants and bars, I would say almost every owner in Montreal would be, we would agree and would voluntarily close their doors. We're out here for the public health.

Toby Lyle [00:28:32]:

It's really important to us, but we just want to see the science sort of the slogan we're using is science, not politics. We want to see the science behind the reasoning for closing us. We want also, it's the constant, okay, you're closed for 28 days and then, oh, you're closed for another 28 days and you're closed for another 28 days. And my biggest issue with the whole thing with it, it's being handled is, yes, we've been given government subventions, maybe enough for some of us to survive, sort of thing. On the second shutdown, there's been nothing for the staff, zero for the staff. There's no cerb anymore. They're all on employment insurance. So with all these preventions they're throwing at us, what about.

Toby Lyle [00:29:08]:

There's 150,000 people on the island of Montreal because they work in restaurants and bars and nothing has come their way other than the regular employment insurance.

Angelo Esposito [00:29:19]:

Yeah, I do agree with you that I love that slogan, right? Science, not politics. Because I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I do just believe in the data. And it's been weird, to say the least, on how they make certain decisions where it's okay. If you're a group of six, it's okay, but seven is not, or you can be open till this time. Why is 09:00 p.m. Okay, but pass. You know, whatever it was, ten or eleven is not. And there's a lot of kind of things that just don't add up.

Angelo Esposito [00:29:43]:

And I think everyone would at least feel more comfortable seeing the date on these decisions, because the way I saw it was like a catch 22. Like, they really vilified restaurants and bars, and for me, that really bothered me. And the part that I think really sucked was it was a lose in the sense that if they closed restaurants and cases went up, they'd be like, oh, see, we closed restaurants. Cases went up. And if they close restaurants and cases didn't go up, they'd be like, oh, thank God, we closed restaurants. So there was no kind of.

Toby Lyle [00:30:09]:

There was no way we were going to win. If cases is shot down right away after they closed restaurants, it would be not our fault. Yeah, I said from the beginning, you don't want to. You don't want to start gambling with people's lives and new infections and stuff. But I said, you know what? The best case scenario is probably that they stay stable for a few weeks, a few months, or a month, and then. And then start to go down. So that happens. Except they started going up at the end of it.

Angelo Esposito [00:30:29]:

And you know what? I just want to give kudos to all the hospitality professionals who really put money and effort, because, like, personally, I was okay going out. Like, I understood the risk, but I was okay going out to restaurants and supporting, and when things were open. And to be honest, I can't speak to everyone, but in my experience, they were way more prepared than going to Costco or Home Depot. Like, when I went to a restaurant or bar, took my name down, had to wash my hands at the door. So they had my contact details to, you know, trace back. If anything, there was plexiglass. You could only get up to go to the washroom, right? You have to put on your mask. So it was, like, really well organized, right? Capacity limits were put down.

Angelo Esposito [00:31:04]:

And you look at that and how much effort and money was put into kind of adapting to only close down again. To me, that's the part that I really feel frustration.

Toby Lyle [00:31:13]:

And you know what? Towards legault the other day referenced, he's always throwing out statistics and studies and things like that to back up his ideas. And the other day he referenced, when he was saying that we're continued to be closed, he referenced this Stanford study, done. Saying that there was ten cities looked at in the US and 15% of outbreaks came from restaurants. And it's funny, I was watching the press conference on my computer and I opened up another browser window. I googled it because I'm like, okay, he's throwing out, he's using a study, fine, let's say, here's some science, let's take a look at it. And every single one of those places was at full capacity, if the restaurants were operating at full capacity. And there's another study besides this from the CDC in the US, saying that if a restaurant is at 60% capacity, you reduce infection rates by 80%. So you're like, okay, I guess all politicians, he's going to use the studies that work for him, but it's just.

Angelo Esposito [00:32:05]:

Pre data in a certain way, right, to fit your narrative.

Toby Lyle [00:32:08]:

And the way it's also, when I say science, not politics, the way it's being handled, where there seems to be different rules and different ways of handling this pandemic, when it comes to places that the CAC holds the seats and where they don't, there's not one elected official on the island of Montreal from the CAC. And we feel that exclusion. We feel that like he realizes his voter base is not here. There's less urgency in fixing the problems and making a solution that works for everyone.

Angelo Esposito [00:32:37]:

I hear you. And then any advice to. It's a tough question because I don't know what there is to do, but I'll still ask, is any advice to hospitality owners out there specifically? I guess in this case in Montreal or Quebec, anything they can do. Anything they can do to support you or your campaigns. Anything they can do. Just in general, like any tips you have to survive during this lockdown, survival is survival.

Toby Lyle [00:33:01]:

It's deciding whether the big question is do take out or don't do takeout. That is everyone. Nobody's making money on takeout. We decided to do take out of most of our restaurants just so we could have few people still working and the lights on and people around. Survival is literally, you gotta hunker down. You gotta hunker down. Prepare for months, because who knows? And then get ready. If it happens sooner, great.

Toby Lyle [00:33:23]:

But you gotta prepare for months and months and months. And ideally it won't go that long. Again this time. But we have to. Yeah, we have to just be in survival mode until this is over. That's all you can do. Think survival. And then once this is all over, then we can get back to normal life and focus on what we do best.

Angelo Esposito [00:33:41]:

And I can imagine on the beverage side, luckily, most liquor doesn't expire. But when it comes to food, for the people that can be open for takeout, like, that's tough. No, like, I would imagine you have to throw out a good chunk of inventory.

Toby Lyle [00:33:54]:

Yeah, you're struggling. You're struggling. There are restaurants that do well. My Britain chips on McGill is doing decently. I'm doing about 50% of my revenue from a normal year because it's a takeout model. So takeout model restaurants are doing okay, which is great. Good for them. Happy that certain restaurants are able to do it.

Toby Lyle [00:34:11]:

But if you have a ambiance or experience based restaurant, it's almost. We're talking about 3%, 4% of our last year's revenue. We're not even hitting 10%. It's just, like I said, it's just a matter of maybe keeping a couple people employed because, again, they're not getting any government assistance. And keeping the lights on and reminding people that.

Angelo Esposito [00:34:30]:

And regarding your actual campaign, is there anything you want to share in terms of. I don't know, a website or. Or page where people can support your.

Toby Lyle [00:34:37]:

Yeah, if we had this meeting at the end of the week, or this call at the end of the week, maybe I'd have something for you. We're developing it as we go. We're at a stage where we're actually gonna maybe go out and have a protest and actually walk on the street and make our opinions known. But on a public health with the rising cases, decided that was not the right thing to do. So we're retooling the whole thing to go more online, obviously. Cause that's the only way to do things right now. And by the end of the week, we should have our message and our Facebook page ready to go. And then we're gonna start really pushing.

Toby Lyle [00:35:07]:

There's been a few of us really working hard on crafting the exact message we wanna put out. It's not demanding to be open, it's just show us the science, please. We wanna show us why. But, yeah, if anyone, they can find me on Facebook, Toby, Lyle and I will be definitely sharing on that page. I rarely share on my Facebook page, but once I get this going, I'll be sharing it on that. And the page link to what we're doing.

Angelo Esposito [00:35:28]:

Awesome. And then another thing we'll definitely do is once. Once we do air this episode, I'll make sure to include the links in the description. So whether people are listening on Spotify or Apple, like, we'll link this up. So hopefully get more people involved. And then. Yeah, last. Last thing.

Angelo Esposito [00:35:43]:

We usually like to end off the episodes on a lighter note. Last day on earth. What would be your last go to meal and your last drink?

Toby Lyle [00:35:51]:

I'm gonna throw a curveball at this and I'm not gonna answer it. As you wish I would. So whenever I travel, whenever I go anywhere, I rarely book dinner. I book four or five places for entrees or for snacks. I like to spread it out like it's rare. Unless there's something somewhere I'm really excited about to go have dinner. I'd rather go try four or five different places and try some smaller things. I basically, when I do go away, it's previous to having a child, but when I do go away, I would spend my whole day just be around going entree to entree.

Toby Lyle [00:36:21]:

So just to keep it local, to support local, because it's where we're at. If I had, say, three or four places I had to go that weren't my own, of course, obviously my first choice would be birding, lion fishing bag, Wolfenworth and chips.

Angelo Esposito [00:36:34]:

Love it.

Toby Lyle [00:36:34]:

If it wasn't those. Listen, I would go get. I'd go get a poutine at the banquies. I would go get Boudin at Le Miac. I would. What would I do? It's all gonna end at Le expresse around one in the morning. Because that's just my favorite thing in the world is picking somebody up from the airport at like, at eleven who's never been to Montreal and say, hey, you want something to eat? They're like, yeah, I'm hungry. And you bring them to this amazing french bistro and they're like, what is going on in this city? It's midnight.

Toby Lyle [00:37:01]:

That's what happens.

Angelo Esposito [00:37:01]:

We're spoiled here. Yeah.

Toby Lyle [00:37:03]:

What else is on that list? Last drink is gonna be. It's gonna be whiskey, of course. Last thing I'm gonna drink is gonna be whiskey. Which whiskey? I don't know. That depends on so many different things. Probably my last. Yeah, my last, last whiskey would be a peated whiskey from Islay, something smoky and peaty from Ilay would be my last whiskey.

Angelo Esposito [00:37:21]:

Awesome. Great answer. And honestly, you made me hungry. Those restaurants take out.

Toby Lyle [00:37:26]:

Yeah. And if I can make a pitch. Just a quick pitch.

Angelo Esposito [00:37:30]:


Toby Lyle [00:37:30]:

Speaking of local entrepreneurs like yourself, it's not a pitch for myself, but it's one of the. One of the hardest parts about Uber Eats and skip the dishes and all the delivery apps is that they're taking an exorbitant amount, and that's why it makes takeout just not a viable option. And so we're working with this company called check, please and evaco. So, long story short, just an easy pitch. Instead of ordering from Uber Eats, go to whatever restaurant you want to order from. Go to their website. If you find it on Uber and you say, oh, this looks good, go to their website, order directly from them. They'll be paying a smaller percentage, and it won't be money that's going just to Silicon Valley to make somebody Silicon Valley rich in the restaurant.

Angelo Esposito [00:38:08]:

Great advice. Great advice. And totally support that. If you guys want to support local, definitely call it in. Go to their website, try to order directly through the restaurant or the two apps you mentioned versus Uber Eats or Foodora, who typically take. Correct me if I'm wrong, I think 20. 30%.

Toby Lyle [00:38:25]:


Angelo Esposito [00:38:25]:


Toby Lyle [00:38:25]:

Yeah, Uber's 30%.

Angelo Esposito [00:38:26]:

30%. Awesome. Toby, it was a pleasure having you on this episode. Really got some great insight from you. So I appreciate you being here with me and stay strong, and I'll definitely post whatever links I can to share the campaign you're working on.

Toby Lyle [00:38:40]:

I appreciate it. Thank you very much. Angelo, take Erica.

Meet Your Host & Guest

Toby Lyle, founder of the Burgundy Lion Group

Toby Lyle, the founder of the Burgundy Lion Group, is a prominent figure in the hospitality industry. With a wealth of experience and expertise, Toby shares insights into his journey, from his humble beginnings in hospitality to his role as a successful entrepreneur. He provides invaluable guidance on the essential checklist for launching a new venue, drawing from his own experiences in the field. Additionally, Toby delves into the government's response to COVID-19 and its impact on the hospitality sector, offering thoughtful perspectives on navigating challenges during unprecedented times. Through his leadership and dedication, Toby Lyle continues to shape the landscape of the hospitality industry, inspiring others with his entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to excellence.


Meet Angelo Esposito, the Co-Founder and CEO of WISK.ai, Angelo's vision is to revolutionize the hospitality industry by creating an inventory software that allows bar and restaurant owners to streamline their operations, improve their margins and sales, and minimize waste. With over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry, Angelo deeply understands the challenges faced by bar and restaurant owners. From managing inventory to tracking sales to forecasting demand, Angelo has seen it all firsthand. This gave him the insight he needed to create WISK.ai.

Recent Episodes

S1E3 - Science not politics with Toby Lyle

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Show notes

Episode Notes

Toby Lyle, owner of the Burgundy Lion Group, shares his journey in the hospitality industry and the lessons he learned along the way. He emphasizes the importance of treating restaurants as businesses and the need for a strong work ethic. Toby discusses the challenges of opening and running multiple venues, including the importance of finding good talent and the complexities of managing finances and permits. He also expresses his frustrations with the government's handling of the pandemic and calls for transparency and support for the hospitality industry. Toby shares his favorite venues and his last go-to meal and drink.


  • Treating restaurants as businesses is crucial for success in the hospitality industry.
  • Finding good talent and nurturing their growth is essential for the long-term success of a restaurant.
  • Opening and running multiple venues comes with its own set of challenges, including financial management and obtaining permits.
  • The government's handling of the pandemic and lack of support for the hospitality industry has been frustrating for restaurant owners.
  • Supporting local restaurants by ordering directly from their websites can help them overcome the high fees charged by delivery apps.


00:00 Fortunate to find job at W Hotel.

05:58 Middle to high end Italian restaurants in neighborhood.

07:54 Incorporating company, negotiating leases, getting permits quickly.

09:49 Hospitality industry lacks clear career growth path.

15:44 Unexpected passion for British culture in Canada.

17:40 Lack of on-site owner led to failure.

20:22 Dirty London pub serves incredible, mind-blowing food.

25:37 Support for restaurants, bars, and hospitality industry.

26:01 Quebec pandemic response critique and restaurant struggles.

31:13 Legault uses selective studies to support ideas.

34:37 Adapting plans for protest, go online instead.

37:30 Support local restaurants, order directly, benefit them.


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