New OHI launches with a tribute to the old

Scott Breard Chairman, Distinguished Restaurants of North America (left), with John Arena, founder of the OHI.
Scott Breard Chairman, Distinguished Restaurants of North America (left), with John Arena, founder of the OHI.

TORONTO — It’s now called the Ontario Hospitality Institute, but its mandate is similar to the former Ontario Hostelry Institute — to support the hospitality industry’s most critical need, a strong workforce. 

The gala evening held at the Fairmont Royal York paid tribute to founders John Arena and the late Charles Grieco, as well as Katrin Zeuner, who ensured the association ran smoothly.

The sold-out inaugural event of the new Ontario Hospitality Institute (OHI), took place October 29th in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel’s Concert Hall with an audience made up of industry leaders from the accommodation and foodservice sectors along with educational leadership from several hospitality programs at colleges and universities. By all accounts the evening was spectacular.

The program was run by emcee Jason Cheskes (right), a long-term director on the ORHMA board and past-president of the Greater Toronto Region, who guided attendees through the evening, including humorously noting that the OHI had now moved away from its past tradition of tuxedos and very long evenings. The event included video addresses from both the Premier of Ontario Doug Ford, and Toronto Mayor John Tory, and included passionate recognition of OHI’s esteemed past serving to enhance professionalism of the hospitality industry.

ORHMA president and CEO Tony Elenis presents Margaret Grieco with an award honouring her late husband Charles.
ORHMA president and CEO Tony Elenis presents Margaret Grieco with an award honouring her late husband Charles.

Awards of recognition were presented to OHI Founder and restaurant icon, John Arena, who at the age of 95 presented a detailed history of the origins and motivations for creating the organization. Arena is best known for his ownership of Winston’s Restaurant and for his many initiatives including his role in being one of the founders of DiRōNA- the Distinguished Restaurants of North America. 

The historical background demonstrated relevance to today’s similar industry issues, and was followed by a tribute to the late Charles Grieco who oversaw the OHI and its activities, as well as Katrin Zeuner who supported OHI and Charles for many years. Following the presentation of Awards, Cheskes announced that permanent Hospitality Student scholarships were being established under the names of both Charles Grieco and John Arena as a testament to their efforts and accomplishments.

ORHMA president and CEO Tony Elenis addresses the gala.
ORHMA president and CEO Tony Elenis addresses the gala.

Aside from recognizing the esteemed history of the OHI, Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) shared a vision and future of the OHI under ORHMA. Following the passing of Charles Grieco earlier this year, ORHMA has taken over stewardship of the organization and is in the process of reformulating elements of OHI’s focus to be to support the hospitality industry’s most critical need, that of a strong workforce.

While a number of initial OHI Founding Sponsors including Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) and Ecolab Canada were recognized for their financial commitments, a key message of the evening was that to have a strong impact, the OHI needs industry leaders to work with them to support these initiatives both with financial investment as well as active participation.