How tailored banking helped fund one of the only Jewish-owned Halal restaurant brand in North America

Michael Lublin, founder of Chainsmoker restaurants couldn’t expand his operations throughout southern Ontario without the help of BMO’s tailored banking support.
Michael Lublin, founder of Chainsmoker restaurants

You don’t become the first and only Jewish, LGBTQIA+ owner of a Halal barbecue chain by accident. It takes  dedication to diversity and partners who are committed to fostering businesses that have the potential to bridge communities, says Michael Lublin, founder of Chainsmoker restaurants.

“I was about 55 years old and working as a vice president of a $4-billion publicly traded company with some 4,000 restaurants in 150 countries. But I felt compelled to say goodbye to the corporate establishment,” Lublin says of the decision to open his first Chainsmoker location in 2018.

Having worked in the food industry most of his life, Lublin believes nothing has the potential to bring people together more than good food—and that by nourishing customers with tender, smoky brisket, spicy chicken wings, and more, he could fill more than just their stomachs.

Serving up diversity

“Canada is a multicultural country,” Lublin laments, “and its ethnic and religious communities have remained very close-knit. In Toronto, for example, the Jewish people have settled along Bathurst Street from College up to and beyond Steeles Avenue; Caribbean Canadians have settled along Eglinton Avenue West and in the Jane and Finch corridor, the Greeks in Greektown, and the list goes on and on.”

But Lublin has always believed that breaking bread is a great way to break barriers—especially in a food-obsessed city like Toronto, which boasts some 7,500 multicultural restaurants across more than 140 neighbourhoods.

“My vision for Chainsmoker as a Halal lifestyle brand is to showcase the message of ‘love for all and hatred for none,’” Lublin says. On any given night, he says, it’s not uncommon to walk into one of Chainsmoker’s current three southern Ontario locations (there are four more on the way, including the chain’s first U.S. outpost in Rochester, N.Y.), and spot “10, 15 and even 20 people of diverse ethnic and religious background sitting side by side and breaking bread.”

Chainsmoker serves authentic urban Halal barbecue  

But bringing his dream to reality—and spreading it across communities—required more than just vision. The food industry is infamously challenging, with its tight profit margins and staffing pressures, and Lublin says scaling Chainsmoker required a partner that was every bit as committed to his delicious vision as he is.

“Like any business, capital was always an issue. Then there is the lack of good consultants and staff, as well as many rogue chefs,” Lublin says. “I would be dead in the water if not for my relationship with my bank, BMO, who went out of their way to build with me.”

The power of tailored banking 

BMO did more than the usual things banks do, like helping him navigate access to small business loans and other funding. “Just the sheer coaching, motivating and hand-holding has been enormous,” he says. “As a business owner from a diverse ethnic background and alternative lifestyle, BMO has given me a sense of family, the feeling that we are all in this together.” 

“Chainsmoker is a young brand and I don’t yet have a middle or senior management team in place. But I can honestly say one of North America’s largest banks has my back. With that, I don’t really need much more.”

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