Talking tableside: Erin Dunham of The Other Bird

The entrepreneur on the importance of good staff and how she winds down at the end of a busy day

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Like two stars destined to cross paths, Erin Dunham and Matt Kershaw of The Other Bird are like a stellar collision shooting off magic and wowing people with pretty much every damn thing they touch. With six restaurants, a catering branch, and a boutique hotel, they’ve created their own little killer cosmos.

Erin Dunham was doing her MBA when Matt Kershaw was looking to open his own place. He hired her for help and it was clear within six months that the two were a winning team. The duo eventually moved on to Hamilton to create The Other Bird restaurant group, where their business philosophy was to bring back pieces of the places they’ve travelled to and fallen in love with.

We chatted with Dunham about her love for the industry, how to convey the feel of the restaurants via the staff and how she winds down at the end of the day.

You explain The Other Bird as “a restaurant group that offers culinary experiences that pull you out of your comfort zone, but in a relaxed, easygoing way.” Most people don’t feel relaxed when they’re not in their comfort zone, so how do you accomplish that? What does that look like?

It really comes down to super educated staff who knows everything about everything. The Alex was the first small-plates place in the area and people just didn’t get it. With the encouragement from our knowledgeable staff, they slowly tried our style and fell in love with it. Rapscallion Rogue Eatery is all about strange cuts that people aren’t used to; so, at first, people just thought it was weird. But our staff can explain why the weird stuff is unique, what people can expect, and how to appreciate it. At the end, if you don’t love it, we’ll buy it. Rapscallion is five years old now, and we’re still full every night because people know that they’ll always have a new and different experience.

What is the driving force behind The Other Bird that sets you apart from the rest of the pack?

Matt and I both grew up in the typical restaurant industry, which wasn’t awesome, so we decided that we weren’t going to be like that. Our staff sets us apart and we stand apart from the old fashioned kitchen. We value, above all else, overall respect. We often fire customers if they’re rude to our staff, and chefs will never talk down to servers. We have an unbelievably low turnover rate because we treat people fucking well and loyal people will stay with you.

Do you have a food idol?

Yes! Anthony Bourdain. He does things to me that I can’t explain and people think I’m crazy. Everything, to me, comes back to passion. The way he experiences things, the way he talks about food and people’s stories; he does such a good job of presenting an all-encompassing experience of dining.

If you weren’t in the restaurant business, what you be doing?

I imagine I’d be in some sort of business; I’m addicted to startups. I love it. Right now, I’m working on an app for restaurants. I just love starting something from brand new.

What’s your favourite way to wind down?

Red wine, a cigar, and a conversation.

Any favourite cigars?

Romeo y Julieta Monte Cristos. I like medium cigars that aren’t overly strong and don’t leave you with that nasty taste in your mouth the next day.

Your website notes that you’re trying to master the left-handed high five. So, do you focus on the eye or the elbow?

Hundred per cent, elbow, all the time! Otherwise you just end up slapping someone in the face.

What is one musician you secretly love but wouldn’t readily admit?

Taylor Swift

Guilty Pleasure:

Oh god, can I put that in print? But truly, I’m a gambler. I love the casino; Matt and I will often sneak away and go play poker. It sounds crazy, but we really do think that the world wants us to be happy. So, if we’re saving for a project and we’re a little short, we’ll go gamble and we always win. We’ve been very fortunate. It resets my mind, it makes me focus on something else completely.