Originally published November 20, 2019.
You’ve held many hats over the years, and currently still do. How would you describe yourself to someone who’s never witnessed your hustle before?
I would say that a combination of who I am today is an entrepreneur and a by-product of that is that I am someone who curates experiences for customers, mainly around food. This can involve events, restaurants, cooking, etc.
Over the years, you’ve been the co-creator of some of Toronto’s top foodservice brands; Kanpai Snack Bar, La Brea Food, Yatai Japanese Street Food, Shook Noodle and now Fat Rabbit Foods. What drove you to move past being one-and-done to be a multi-brand entrepreneur?
Part of it is that being in this industry is one, addictive, two, the yearning to be able to create and therefore give something creative to the customers base, which is always looking for something creative. It is mainly about keeping that creative edge while also staying competitive. There aren’t too many things out there that stay hot and good for a sustainable amount of time so it’s an evolution of a recreation every now and then.
You’ve also taken on roles such as a Global Board of Trustees Vice Chair (International Centre), consultant, forum participant, publications contributor and public speaker, all while also being an avid Toronto sports fan. How do you best find a balance among all the to-do’s?
The toughest part is finding a balance. It’s all in the planning and ensuring that you prioritize the things that are important to you like family and yourself.
What I’ve realized in the last year, moving from corporate to working for myself, is that I’m able to carve out time when I need or want to do the things that are important to me in life; spending time with my wife, being with family, my own time, going and playing basketball on Tuesday nights. That last one is the one thing every week I never give up; it’s been my two-hour escape with the same guys since 1998.
Among all your projects, how did you first become involved with Branding & Buzzing? What were some of the first things you accomplished together?
I would say I was probably an early adopter with Sean since I was there with him and Marian since the beginning. We’ve done a boatload of things together since then, as small as creating single recipes for Mark McEwan to bigger things like being one of the ambassadors for Canola and doing Canola Camp.
We’ve also accomplished a lot of collaborative things around events and in the restaurants involving brands and pop-ups. The list is endless.
If there’s a supplier out there that has had a hand in the growth and development of my career over the last 5-6 years, they’ve been arguably one of my biggest supporters and partners.
What do you find is most advantageous about working with a digital marketing agency in the foodservice space?
They become another voice for you and amplify things further than you may be able to. When you work with a digital agency, someone like Branding & Buzzing, you collaborate on a project and it’s important for that someone to share your message(s). Branding & Buzzing does all of that, they’re storytellers. We both actually are; one of us is the executor of the story and the other delivers the story.
What are some of your favourite ways your brands are presented on social media?
To me, I’m all authenticity. It’s not necessarily a format because one day, I might not feel like posting food because the food I create that day might not have me comfortable about posting it. What I want to feel comfortable doing is sharing what I think is real, and that’s more important to me than anything.
I’ve always been about being true and real to myself, whether I’m sitting in a boardroom as a Global Board Member with MPI or if I’m grinding it out in a tent at the Beer Fest. Who you see is who I am, it’s not anything made up.
Any advice to those looking to build their own brands in the city?
Hard work is hard work, but that’s just not enough these days because everyone works hard. Being true to your brand is what’s most important because those who support you in the beginning when you’re just starting out are going to be there in the end. If you change too much of who you really are, particularly with your ego and your personality, you face the challenge of alienating the people who were your base.
What’s next for Trevor Lui, goals or otherwise?
Right now, I’m part of a really exciting new brand called Good Karma, and we just opened our first one. We’re looking to really blow it up in the Toronto area, possibly out of the city as well. That and working on a new restaurant project that is a little more close to my heart.
My manuscript is also due later this year, looking at a fall 2020 publishing date. It’s almost going to be like a memoir and journey of my food story. There will be a lot on what drives me, a lot about family and a lot about my roots and background. That’s the most exciting project out of all of them.
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