Jeff Stinco rushes in to meet me. He’s wearing black jeans and a fleece, fresh out of the gym where he’s a regular fixture. One glance at his diary and it’s clear why the rock star is looking to catch his breath. The night before, the 36-year-old was celebrating the bar opening in his Shinji restaurant. The restaurant was also celebrating its first anniversary, not far from the brand new Mimi la Nuit, a nightclub, and Mangiafoco, an enoteca, in Old Montréal.
“My parents would go there before I was born. It was the Black Bottom back then, one of the big names on the Montréal nightlife scene,” says the son of an Italian father born in the French protectorate of Tunisia. “My mom’s from Québec. She studied literature in France,” continues Jeff, who chose to pursue an international career in English. “With Simple Plan, it was only natural for us to sing in English so that we’d be picked up worldwide.”
Now something of a globetrotter, Jeff Stinco still loves Montréal. “There’s something magical that happens here that you just don’t get anywhere else: the shift from winter to summer. Suddenly everything’s a reason for a party and a get-together. The patios are full, everyone’s looking their best, with big grins on their faces.” And that’s why he chose to go into business in Montréal.
Business in his blood
The story begins with plans to distribute craft beers a little differently. (Did we mention he also likes to home brew?) “We were looking for less traditional ways to get our beers distributed. That’s where the idea to open a few restaurants came from.” Since he has a knack for surrounding himself with the right people—all the members of Simple Plan have been friends since they were little—Jeff Stinco teamed up with well-established pros. “I surrounded myself with the best chefs, too, and partnered with them,” says the fandom favourite. “It’s incredible to see how chefs like Hakim Chajar (Laurea) and Shinji Nagai (Le Shinji) are real stars in the gastronomy world.”
Whether you’re talking about music or the restaurant business, one thing never changes: the competition is fierce, while loyalty and success are often hard to come by. “To succeed, you need to respect your fans and try new things.”
Long before he became a jazz, classical, and rock musician, Jeff discovered the guitar age 12 as he watched Hendrix set his on fire on TV. “I found it very… powerful,” he recalls. “Music is music. It doesn’t really matter what type. It’s a little like the restaurant business. There’s good and bad food of every kind. In my restaurants, I show up with a mix of things I like and that I’ve seen elsewhere.” Design (his favourite subject), mood, and music are just as important as what’s on the plate, Jeff maintains. “When something’s an experience, it gets people coming back.”
But are there too many restaurants in Montréal? Jeff Stinco believes that competition makes you stronger. “I get worried when I hear talk of legislation. I think the free market should be allowed to run its course and things will level out by themselves.”
Stinco is optimistic when he looks to the future. “Focusing our energy on the disasters people are predicting is dangerous for the economy. I’d rather concentrate on feel-good stories like Simons, Stingray Musique, and Frank & Oak, all of whom are continuing to move forward within their industries by taking calculated risks.”
For Stinco, food brings people together every bit as much as music. At home, sitting down to eat supper with his two girls is something he wouldn’t miss for the world. “It’s often around the table that we share the best things that happen to us,” admits this father who is big on being thankful. “On tour, we see so many young people who don’t have any easy time of it. I want my children to grow up to be kind and generous.”
It’s been ten years since the Simple Plan Foundation was set up. Every year, hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised to help young people make the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood. “I had music. Others aren’t so lucky!”
Photo credit: Chady Awad