The Shanghai Show is a weekly podcast featuring comedy bits and sketches along with world news and interviews with some of the heavy hitters in Shanghai and all over the world. Listen to the full interview on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, LizhiFM or XimalayaFM.
If you’ve ever gone in to Tock’s you, no doubt, have met Brian Tock. One of the founders of Tock’s Montreal Deli, Brian shared his passion for smoked meats with Shanghai and even had Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau come in to talk shop one week before the infamous WeChat post that was shared all over about the falling out. The once proclaimed “New Emperor of China” by the Montreal Gazette sat down with The Shanghai Show to get to know the man behind the meat. [Listen to the full episode below]
Where are you from?
Originally from Montreal. A suburb about 15-20 minutes outside of Montreal called West Island. Grew up there, went to school there and then made a jump to London, Ontario and went to school at University of Western.
What brought you to Shanghai?
I used to be in manufacturing, headwear, accessories out of Montreal and I made my first trip to China in 2009/2010 and from there I came about 4-5 times a year. I’d come down to Guangdong and Dongguan and do that whole factory thing and I was always craving sandwiches. I grew up a Jewish kid in Montreal, deli meats were just part of the staple and so I just had some random thoughts, “oh, that’d be cool” and then went back home, quit my job, was working with some startups, got a phone call from my uncle who had traveled to Asia for many years and he was like, “Hey, what do you think about smoked meats in Shanghai?” It just so happened that I had a nice duplex in Montreal and smoking and curing meats was a passion of mine that I did so I put a plan together, jumped on a plane and moved to Shanghai.
“I grew up a Jewish kid in Montreal, deli meats were just part of the staple.”
So you had the regular expat life but you came over and realized what was missing?
You know I can’t take credit for immediately realizing anything. I thought I knew China was about coming here 4-5 times a year . I thought, speaking to people , you’re like, “Oh, ok that’s China, I get it,” but actually moving here, living here, working here with everyday people has really opened up my eyes to what it actually takes to not just exist here in China because it’s super easy to do that here, especially in Shanghai.
So Prime Minister Trudeau came by your deli, what’s he like?
Justin Trudeau is a cool dude. We actually, roundabout knew each other. We were in some of the same circles in Montreal. Actually meeting him face-to-face though, he's super down to Earth. Definitely someone who was born for the political sphere. He asked real questions about my story, what it's like to do business out here. Interestingly enough, he was in China 15 years ago when his dad was Premier of Canada so for him, he was just in awe while we were chilling in the kitchen. He couldn't believe what happened in the last 15 years in China. He spent 45 minutes in our space...he dropped by with a 50 person entourage.
Is he as dreamy as everyone says he is?
He is a good looking man.
Did he take off his shirt like in all his hiking photos?
No, he did not but he definitely undid his tie, rolled up his sleeves and he actually served a customer in our restaurant. It was super natural. It wasn’t staged, I was busy and he just said, “Need me to take that?”
“Justin Trudeau is a cool dude…he’s super down to Earth, someone that was born for the political sphere.”
So you had this amazing PR right before the worst PR. How did that all happen? Walk us through the controversy.
Well, you know there is a bunch of stuff that’s personal and there’s no point to get in to it now and because of potential action (what you can/can’t say). I will say the relationship between myself, my partners and my family back in Canada has been tumultuous at best and so my actual partner Mira, she and I started a consulting company together a few months before and so we started to look at different opportunities. We started to do that while continuing to move Tock’s forward. Just through conversations we were supposed to do a bunch of stuff and I don’t mean to be coy but there are certain details that all in all need to stay private for now. Basically, we couldn’t agree, they are the majority shareholders and so we decided to advise them that we no longer want to manage Tock’s and we have other opportunities and we couldn’t come to an agreement…there was a lot of clash and a lot of family stuff so we were going to do this transition, this handover. It was in our best interest to do a mutually beneficial transition because that would allow us to exit with a mutually beneficial situation. They could continue moving forward using our recipes, we’re handing them a well-functioning, well-branded, well-marketed, profitable operation. Long story short, they decided that wasn’t valuable for them (again, it goes back to personal stuff that is not really public sphere) they decided to do a hostile takeover on Monday. We decided on a basic handover on Wednesday. I advised that I was out of town and they said, maybe it’s an opportunity, they came in started changing the locks, talking to our staff, really acting in an unethical way and we don’t deal with that. It’s the reason you’ll see my face or Mira’s face everyday for the last 3 years in the restaurant. We care too much.
“They came in, started changing the locks, talking to our staff, really acting in an unethical way and we don’t deal with that.”
You always seemed like the face of Tock’s. Are you the person always on the ground?
For sure, my partners know nothing about China and know nothing about operating restaurants in China. I built the entire thing from the ground up and brought on Mira to handle operations because she’s the organized one and I’m just the doer. So we made a good team and continued moving forward.
So how about the recipes? Are those yours?
The recipes were developed before our company was actually formed. I was doing this back in my house and what is mine is mine. They can claim that that is theirs and I should “do the right thing.” The right thing was presented and it was very mutually beneficial for both sides and they chose to go in a different direction and now trying to use some power play…the recipes are mine, they are always going to be mine and there is no way they can prove otherwise.
My mom always advised me to never go in to the Food and Beverage industry. Would you do it again?
Your mom is 100% correct. Immediately, I don’t want to go back in to operations of restaurants. I would recommend anyone that’s passionate and loves it to go in to it. Anyone that thinks they are just going to make money from it, I would caution against it. I do enjoy being part of that atmosphere but I realize with my expertise, what I’m good at is not day-to-day but business development, branding strategy. Maybe one day, but probably not here. Probably somewhere out by the water where I can surf and it’s super chill.
“Anyone that thinks they are just going to make money from [having a restaurant] I would caution against it.”
Long story short: I’ve learned everything on my own plus I’ve had a lot of help from the community and coming through here and those people know who they are who reached out when I first got here, provided sources, help. Some real good people in the community and everyone else, I know what I can do and I don’t give a shit what other people are writing.
Thanks to Brian Tock to sitting down with The Shanghai Show. We look forward to seeing his new projects coming down the pipeline. Tune in to Episode 4 of The Shanghai Show for the full interview.
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