By Laura Aiken
They always said if you work in the kitchen you’ll never starve.”
Adrien Vachon, owner of Fat Cat’s pizzeria in Welland, Ont., explains
his start in the food business with the same simplicity with which he
approached opening his own shop with his wife Kelly.
They always said if you work in the kitchen you’ll never starve.” Adrien Vachon, owner of Fat Cat’s pizzeria in Welland, Ont., explains his start in the food business with the same simplicity with which he approached opening his own shop with his wife Kelly. Focus on high-quality ingredients, homemade food and offer great value at the price point. By sticking to the basics in a good location, Vachon is opening up a second Fat Cat’s in nearby St. Catharines based on the success of the first.
|Fat Cat’s owner Adrien Vachon and his wife Kelly proudly show their finalist’s award in the Traditional Division in the Canadian Pizza booth at the 2010 Las Vegas Pizza Expo. |
Vachon started in fast food places, eventually landing at a Pizza Pizza franchise, where he stayed for seven years.
“That’s where I perfected my technique,” he says, adding that’s also who he modelled the stone-baked, hand-tossed dough aspects of his own store after. After years of hands-on experience, Vachon, who turns 39 this year, switched gears to education and graduated from Niagara Culinary Institute in 2006. Heading back to school steered him to positions at fine dining establishments, one of which was an Italian restaurant lacking pizza on its menu. Little did he know this would be the catalyst to a return to pizza. One day, Vachon offered to make pizza for the staff, knowing there was a “perfectly good dough mixer downstairs.” After trying Vachon’s pizza, the head chef decided to add it to the menu and, Vachon says, it was a hit with customers that summer. He also recommended Vachon open his own pizza place, advice Vachon turned into action.
At the time, he and Kelly were planning to move back to Taiwan, where they had met 10 years ago, and open a pizzeria there. Kelly is from Taiwan and Vachon had taken a brief hiatus from food service to teach English there. The pair ended up marrying in a big street wedding in Taiwan with 380 guests. He says he always missed the kitchen though and knew pizza was what he was good at. As the couple contemplated opening up shop in Taiwan, Vachon saw an empty spot for a restaurant across from Niagara College that he thought was the ideal location. They decided to stick around the Niagara-Welland area, where Vachon’s relatives also reside, and forge ahead with opening up Fat Cat’s.
“We were busy from day one,” says Vachon. Fat Cat’s opened on Feb. 18, 2008, on the Family Day holiday, which Vachon says was accidental rather than intentional. During its first year of operation, Fat Cat’s won the Best Pizza and Wings award at the Niagara Food Festival`s Pizza and Wings Smackdown competition. Kelly has experience in the restaurant business as a server, and now she cooks, so the duo needed only employ two additional staff, one full time and one part time. However, with the opening of a second location, relatives and further hires are coming on board to assist.
One thing the couple wanted for sure in their pizzeria was an open kitchen, says Kelly. Aside from that, they wanted to build their recipes from scratch. They wanted to go slightly high end with their menu while offering the best price they could for the highest quality and freshest food. The Fat Cat’s sells a 24-slice specialty pizza for $22.20, and a small six-slice basic pie for $5.95. But Vachon says the secret to his success definitely starts with good ingredients.
“We make our own dough. We make our own sauce. We try to make as many things as we can ourselves. We even bake our own focaccia bread for our grilled, pressed paninis.”
One of the most exciting parts of opening a business is settling on the name. The Vachons have four cats but it wasn’t the only reason Fat Cat’s came to be.
“I wanted to have a name that people would remember. When I think of higher end, I think of ‘fat cats’ who like good food. I also wanted a name kids could remember. Also, Fat Cat’s translates well into any language, so if we ever did decide to do this in Taiwan it could be easily translated,” says Vachon.
Vachon was the runner-up in Canadian Pizza magazine’s 2010 Chef of the Year contest, which earned him a trip to compete at the Las Vegas Pizza Expo in March. For the competition in the Traditional category he whipped up his top seller—a pepperoni and maple bacon delight that is decidedly Canadian.
On the specialty pizza side, Fat Cat’s top-selling gourmet pie is their Bianca, which combines a basil pesto base with asiago, mozzarella, feta cheese, fresh mushrooms and marinated artichoke hearts. This recipe has been particularly popular with female customers, says Vachon. The couple has also created a popular dessert called Cat Tails from their dough that’s drizzled with homemade caramel sauce, icing sugar and cinnamon, which Vachon says goes over great with kids.
At press time, Vachon was busy labouring away on renovations to the new store, with the grand opening planned for Labour Day weekend. The new location will be licensed, unlike the original store, and have more room for dine-in traffic. Vachon says he plans to spend most of his time at the new store getting to know the community and new clientele. If working in a kitchen means you’ll never starve, the Vachons will be keeping quite full with two Fat Cat’s.