FOUNDER, NEIGHBOURHOOD GROUP
Bob Desautels was born in Toronto, Ontario and raised in Ottawa and Montreal. He moved to Guelph in 1971 to attend the University of Guelph on an academic scholarship. Four years later, Bob had finished a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the School of Hotel and Food Administration (1975). He also went on to complete a Masters of Arts degree in Philosophy (1984) from Guelph and served as President of the Philosophy Graduate Student’s Association during his student years. Bob has been married to Susanne since 1973 and is father to Emily and Court as well as “pops” to his 5 grandchildren…“his little angels”.
Bob’s early working career involved six years in club management. He also played golf professionally and competed on both the Canadian and Australian PGA golf tours in the mid 70’s. Eventually he became club manager and professional at a golf club north of Toronto.
In 1981 Bob accepted a teaching position on the Faculty at the University of Guelph, School of Hotel and Food Administration. He worked closely with the team that developed the Advanced Management Programs for the Hospitality Industry for the university. Bob went on to coordinate the logistics for three different executive programs. During his time at the university he taught eight different courses in the Bachelor of Commerce degree program. These courses included: Introduction to Hotel and Food Administration; Quantity Food Production; Control Systems for the Hospitality and Tourism Industry; History of Wines, Beers and Spirits; and, a fourth-year seminar in Management Theory. Bob wrote a number of Business Cases for senior undergraduate courses and published the paper “Hospitality Trade Development in Canada” in the British academic journal ‘Tourism Management’. It was during his time teaching that he opened La Maison, a restaurant serving French cuisine, and Guelph’s first wine bar. Bob managed the restaurant for 3 years. He assumed Head Chef duties for the last 18 months prior to selling the business in 1987. Bob also began his involvement with environmental initiatives in the early 1980’s. He was a founding member of Canada’s Green Party in 1983.
In 1991 Bob resigned from the University of Guelph to start up The Neighbourhood Group of Companies. The company’s pub concept was centered around a purchasing philosophy that featured locally-crafted foods and beverages. Eventually there were operations in Peterborough, Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston. The Group became the first chain to fully endorse and buy beers from Ontario’s burgeoning microbreweries. The Pub Group garnered rave reviews in the press and received a fierce loyalty from its many customers. Nevertheless, the quick expansion resulted in chronic undercapitalization so in 2005, the company decided to sell all its pub operations except for The Wooly Pub in Guelph. In 2008 the company started a new concept, The Borealis Grille and Bar (and now has two locations in Guelph and Kitchener). In 2015, Bob and his son, Court, created a new restaurant concept called Miijidaa Café + Bistro.
Bob has always been a committed advocate for developing a strong sense of community, promoting diversification of local economies and encouraging environmentally sound business practices. In the early 90’s, he was heavily involved with the Guelph Student Campus Co-op’s Board of Directors and co-chaired the Guelph Spring Festival Annual Wine Auction and Gala. He was named ‘Volunteer of the Year’ by the Edward Johnson Music Foundation in 1997. From 1998 to 2001, he served as the Chair of the city’s Visitor and Convention Services. Bob also served on the ‘Steering Committee for the Speed and Eramosa Rivers: An Ecological History Walking Tour.’
Bob has also been active in a number of associations, clubs and projects. He was a charter member of Cuisine Canada and former National Board Director. He’s been a member of the Canadian Foodservice and Restaurant Association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Guelph’s Cutten Club, An Quaich Scotch Tasting Society. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Grand River Conservation Foundation - the Group has raised over $150,000 for river restoration. Bob was involved in the original committee that established Ontario’s ‘Ale Trail’ for which he received a Certification of Appreciation in 1999. Over the years, he has consulted for various restaurant concepts. The Ontario Hostelry Institute picked him as its 2012 Gold Award Honoree in the category of “Independent Restaurateur of the Year” and the company also recently won FoodService and Hospitality Magazine’s 2013 Green Leadership Award for Canada. In 2016, Restaurant News named Bob “Ontario Restaurateur of the Year” and in 2017, he was given the University of Guelph’s “Distinguished Industry Leader Award.” He is especially proud of the 2016 Grand River Conservation Authority’s “Watershed Award” given to the company due to all the efforts of employees, including tree planting and fundraising activities. At this point in his life and career, and after these nice accolades, Bob decided it was time to retire from day-to-day operations.
Looking forward, as Chair of The Neighbourhood Group of Companies, the major focus of Bob’s activities will be to help the company expand concepts across Ontario. The company plans to find qualified individuals who desire to be restaurateurs and fully embrace the buy local and sustainable principles and beliefs of the Group. Bob’s energies will be centered on promoting the member restaurants as vibrant local meeting places that feature locally-crafted foods and beverages through his role as Chair of the Group. Bob’s son, Court, has taken over as President. Along with Louise McMullen (CAO), Neil Robinson (COO), and Shea Robinson (Executive Chef), he will be steering the company into the future. Court’s first major initiative was coordinating the B Corp certification of all company restaurants thereby making The Neighbourhood Group the largest restaurant company in the world to receive that status.
With the new executive team in place, and with time on his hands, Bob has decided to embark on a writing career to tell his stories and philosophies which have come into focus with experience and age. He plans to continue with his blog Bobby D’s Locavore’s Digest and finish his upcoming book, A Book of Sayings – An Old Man’s Reflections and Lessons Learned for His Childrens’ Children. He will also be actively promoting his wine book, WineSense – The Three Keys to Understanding Wine and his children’s book, co-authored with his granddaughter Ava, The Girl Who Loved Cheese.