Grey Goose Notable: Hanif Harji has partnered with Grey Goose, the World’s Best Tasting Vodka, to celebrate an exclusive series of Grey Goose Notables: young professionals and entrepreneurs who are influential taste-makers. For the next 10 weeks, we will feature two unique Notables who have made it – young professionals who have reached success beyond their years. We’ll show you how these Notables enjoy what they’ve earned – how they entertain friends, where they travel, what drives them from the office to the golf course – and how they celebrate life and all it has to offer. So, raise a glass as we toast to the Grey Goose Notables…

Hanif Harji started his career in the hospitality industry at an early age. His family left Tanzania when he was 4-years-old, settling in Toronto and buying the Greenwood convenience store. His father was a hardworking man, and took on a job at the TTC in addition to his responsibilities at the family-owned shop. When Hanif was studying history at the University of Toronto, his father fell ill, and to help out Hanif began working at the Greenwood convenience store.

Before long he found the shop to be a meagre business, and, during what he calls a “serendipitous time,” Hanif sold the store to invest in the purchase of a Second Cup at Dundas and McCaul, right around the time that speciality coffee shops were starting to find prominence in the consumer market. Working long hours, Hanif started to understand the simplicity of hospitality, there being a genuine nature of marketing and community. Before long, he had increased sales at this first location and was able to purchase another franchise, and then another, until he had 11 Second Cup franchises to his name.

His passion for the hospitality industry cemented, Hanif started traveling, and in a chance meeting in St. Moritz, Switzerland at a gourmet festival, he started consultancy in hospitality, working on food and beverage programs for a line of hotels in Singapore. He spent a lot of his time in Asia, and was struck by the culinary and cultural differences between Toronto and overseas. Hanif saw the need to bring some of the Asian hospitality tenets to Toronto, and was convinced the city was poised for a hip Japanese cuisine experience. The market was hungry, and in 2003 Hanif and his business partners – including chef G.Q. Pan and promoter Zark Fatah – opened Blowfish at King and Bathurst, which made waves on Toronto’s culinary scene.

A roster of other high-end and significant restaurants followed: Kultura on King East, with chef/partner Roger Mooking helming the trans-ethnic menu; Colborne Lane, prized as one of Toronto’s top restaurants; and Nyood, still one of the city’s hottest spots. Hanif has for the most part left these restaurants, selling his shares as it were to focus on his new company, Icon Legacy Hospitality, which opened F-Stop but a couple months ago in Toronto’s King West, in the space left by Hyde.

Icon’s goal is to open a couple restaurants on King West, the first of which we should see opening doors in the next month or two.

Hanif has come a long way from his roots in the hospitality industry. He’s accomplished what few others can claim, but despite his successes remains humble and is always quick to tout the contributions of his partners and anyone who has helped him along the way – it’s part of his quiet charisma and charm. Whether he’s opening up a new restaurant, working on programs for hotels, launching a high-end line of bottled water – a venture he undertook a few years ago, the product of which, 1 Litre Water, was designed with Perennial Design – Hanif has a dedication to quality and the consumer which is laudable. He tries not to compare himself to other people, instead “working really hard at bringing to life what I feel is right at the time…Any business is a real grind, and you need some good breaks. You learn a lot about yourself, about walls and how you break them down, and how you navigate new waters.”

Hanif Harji is a Notable, and to him, notable is “Originality and creativity. Most successful people and companies take an idea and vision that’s cutting edge and are not afraid to follow through and really believe in it and develop it.”

If there was one location that every person must see, what would it be? Why?
The Great Wall of China or any of the wonders of the world. The “why” is obvious.

What is your general life philosophy? / What advice would you want to share with others?
Don’t approach anything in life half-assed, because there are over 6 billion people who think they can do whatever you are doing better than you. Let things percolate in your subconscious before you make any important life decisions.

What is it about you that you feel attracts others to you?
Humility and Passion.

What do you do to keep active, healthy, and vibrant?
Cardio and weights when possible, and I have a child-like exuberance about what I do for a living. One is truly blessed when they wake up excited about their work.

When entertaining at your home, what is your one staple item that you must serve, and why?
Jamon Iberico La Bellota…because it is the best in the world.

What is more important when entertaining; the space, or the people in the space, and why?
Like-minded people enjoying good food, wine, and great conversation can make any place feel special.

Do you cook? If yes, what is your best dish? If no, what is your favourite dish to be cooked for you?
I don’t cook, but nothing beats my moms curried spinach with olive oil and home made chapatti bread.

What is one of your favourite lounges/restaurants? Why?
Terroni. Simple, delicious, authentic and always consistent.