I Want Your Job: Jon Polubiec, Renegade Restaurateur




I Want Your Job: Jon Polubiec, Renegade Restaurateur

Small business success isn't all about longevity, as the mastermind behind Come and Get It restaurant sets out to prove.

I Want Your Job finds Torontonians who make a living doing exactly what they love to do, in any field, and for any salary, and asks them how they did it.

Photo courtesy of Jon Polubiec

It’s tempting to call Come and Get It a pop-up restaurant. It’s the kind of overexposed turn of phrase news media lazily clings to, and lip-smackingly fun to pronounce. Jon Polubiec’s sandwich, salad, and poutine experiment, however, is something altogether different. As one cheerful troll on a Toronto Life posting astutely pointed out, “a true ‘pop up’ restaurant is not this nice and there [sic] illegal.” But while Come and Get It may have the markings of a longstanding food joint—a unified graffiti-inspired design theme and real paper-and-ink menus, for example—the five-month-old Queen and Spadina haunt is most definitely not here to stay. The space had been zoned for a condo development before it was filled by Come and Get It.

“It’s given me the opportunity to do something that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have been done in the space at that location,” says Polubiec of the imminent eviction rent deal that allowed him, a then 26-year-old catering cook, to embark on his own business venture this past winter. “If I were paying full rent, I would not at all be able to survive.”

So, while not exactly a pop-up, Polubiec’s temporary eatery is not long for this world, inviting passersby and novelty seekers to come and get its tasty combos before it’s too late.

Torontoist: What inspired you to enter the restaurant business?

Jon Polubiec: I was a cook. And every cook or chef, I think, has the dream of having their own restaurant. That’s the short answer.

The long answer is that I studied finance in university and then had the opportunity to do some backpacking after graduating. In Europe, I fell in love with small business and independent business owners, mostly through food-oriented situations. I was surrounded at business school with big banks, law firms, advertising agencies, all these big intimidating places, and for years I looked over the merits and joys of small business and what small business can do for a community, a society, and an economy. And I decided that I did not want to continue and pursue what I was educated in, but what I was working in during the summers. And that was cooking.

How did you come up with the concept to specifically open up a temporary shop in an about-to-be-closed place?
The menu layout was a concept I had in the back of my head, and then I came across this space. I’ve always had this belief that, especially when it comes to small business, an idea can only get you 60 per cent of the way. You have to have that idea ready for the right opportunity. I was lucky enough that this opportunity crossed my path, and the condo people were looking to get something out of it and I was looking to get something out of it, and we met and had a good relationship. So I took the plunge. I just didn’t want to ask myself what could have been.

The place has lasted longer than some expected it would. Any idea when you’re going to get the boot?
[The developers’] goal is to break ground in the winter, but that can change. I just kind of roll with the punches. Now that we’re halfway through the summer, I’m thinking we’re going to get the fall out of it and hopefully even the winter. I know the construction at Queen and Spadina right now has delayed the condo’s progress.

I’m not worried too much about it. I really love what we’re doing, and I’m going to be absolutely devastated when we have to close, but there’s going to be a new version of what we’re doing and I’m excited for that all at the same time.

How does your experience differ from others in your industry?
Most people, if they don’t go into cooking as a teenager, but rather delay to their early twenties as I did, they have a long way to becoming an expert. And I am by no means a culinary expert. I just love to cook and I love food and I knew what it took to be a good chef, and I tried to match that with my undergrad studies.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m learning as I go. And I think that’s the beauty of this project. It’s an education for me.