Nia Picks with Seg'z Owner, Horace Wilson
“If you want to make me angry, make my customers angry.” Talking with Horace Wilson, Owner of Seg’z Restaurant.
Name of Business: Seg’z
Owner: Horace Wilson
Address: 503 Oakwood Avenue (on Vaughan)
Established: June 2013
Whitney French: What inspired the idea behind Seg’z?
Horace Wilson: I wanted to be financially secure.
WF: Was there any inspiration for opening a restaurant specifically?
HW: You know what it is, I’ve been doing this for twenty years. I woke up one day and said enough is enough. I was a kitchen manager but now I want to be an owner.
WF: Was there something that was driving you?
HW: The best. I want to be the best.
WF: I know you used to be just down the street. And now you’re at Vaughan and Oakwood. Why the move?
HW: We couldn’t get a business license, the building wasn’t zoned to be a restaurant.
WF: And how do you like the new location?
HW: To be honest, it’s the best thing that has ever happened. The funniest thing is for years I’d drive by this location and always saw that it was vacant. I’d laugh to myself and say, “If the right thing goes into that location, it’s going to work.” But never in a billion years did I think it was going to be me.
WF: Why did you take the place?
HW: Because I was dead broke. I didn’t even have first and last month’s rent and I was suffering. But a friend of mine helped me out and that was the beginning of it. The biggest thing about this place is online ordering. Thank God for JustEats. Our busy time is the night-time. That’s why we’re opened at 12pm. The later it is, the busier it is.
WF: That’s good for people to know in this neighbourhood.
HW: That’s where it’s at now-a-days. We deliver as far as the Eaton Centre, Davisville, we even go to High Park. You got to be in the money. So we deliver like crazy, Front Street, even Queensway.
WF: That’s fantastic. I want to back just a bit. You mentioned, and this is your words you were “dead broke”, how important is it for small businesses to get support?
HW: Without that, there is no business to be honest. At first I didn’t understand. A friend of mine once said owning a business is like being up on the highest mountain. It can be lonely. If people think you are doing well, everyone scatters, especially in the black community. What I do is work four years at a place, gain experience and then move on. To move from kitchen manager to General Manager it’s hard. I stopped going to school when I was 15.
WF: So you are a self-taught, self-made businessman?
HW: That’s right.
WF: Incredible. May I ask, what is your personal connection to Vaughan and Oakwood?
HW: Giving back is the most important thing. The community is really supporting me, and our culture. When I started, I received a lot of black support. But there’s also affordability too. I used to be a $7.95 person, but someone told me for the quality food you need to put value on what are serving.
WF: We need to put value on quality food. You’re right.
HW: It’s the honest truth.
WF: Do you have personal support from friends and family.
HW: My sister Dionne, I love her dearly. I am extremely grateful for both my sisters and their support. And most of it is hard work. It’s like 20 hours a day. People think owning a business is a joke but it isn’t. I haven’t watched TV for 5 minutes in 5 months.
WF: I admire your drive. Do you have a specialty item that a lot of people come here for?
HW: The jerk chicken sandwich is the number one item in this place.
WF: I love the jerk chicken sandwich! That’s my sandwich.
HW: That’s $10.95! Next up is Cajan chicken breast with mango slaw, and macaroni with pulled pork. People are going crazy for the salmon as well. Personally, my favourite is the brisket sandwich.
WF: To switch gears a bit, at Nia Centre we are artists and we appreciate food and people who see the value in the culinary arts. But what type of art form inspires you?
HW: It’s always music. Being Jamaican it’s got to be music. Bob Marley.
WF: So reggae music specifically?
HW: Yes, that’s the music that makes the most sense to me. I am a music guy.
WF: Thank you so much for the interview so far, last question that I have, do you have an interesting story to share with people about Seg’z?
HW: The thing is customer service. If you want to make me angry, make my customers angry. I love my customers dearly. My last boss, one thing about that guy he has so much love in his heart. But at the time I thought I was way smarter than him. I thought I could go out and be my own business owner. Now [I realize that] it’s so hard.
The two franchises that I look up are McDonalds and Tim Hortons. And a funny thing is, someone walked in here last night and asked if they could buy the Seg’z franchise off of me. I was blown away. I thought, you’re not really saying that to me, are you?
WF: There you go. Your dreams are manifesting.
HW: That’s a good reason we need to branch out too because you never know who you serve.
WF: Very entrepreneurial.
HW: A lot of owners, black owners, they want to be the only owner. But if the right person walks in and they fit and work well with me, I’m ready tomorrow morning to sign that cheque and I’m ready to go. Take risks! I want to get that phone call. I wake up everyday ready to get that phone call.
One thing is, I don’t go by recipes but I go buy taste. You get what I’m saying. If you can eat it, you can sleep it, dream about it, I’m always thinking how do I make something better.
It’s all about doing things you didn’t think you could do. I started off alone, now I have eight employees and two drivers. I am very proud of that. I ran away when I was 15. I was homeless and hungry. If you open a business and you aren’t willing to be on the street, don’t bother. If you aren’t willing to sleep in your car to keep your business afloat, don’t bother.
I know what hungry is like. I will feed you.
WF: Thank you for sharing your story, for being honest and being a big part of the community. I really love the food you serve and I’ve told people to come back. You’ve seen it.
HW: You have! If it tastes good. Tell ten people. It tastes like garbage, keep it to yourself.