Urban planner decides to serve up something different with new career direction.
Imagine yourself as a graduate of Dalhousie University’s urban planning program. You’ve completed two international internships, one in Paris and one in Guyana, spent years working for two established local firms, chosen Canada’s Young Planner of the Year in 2017, and in 2018 opened your own consultancy. What would be the next step in your career?
Well, opening a restaurant of course. At least, that’s how Kourosh Rad answered the question.
“Restaurants play a large role in helping a community develop its character. They bring life to our streets,” Rad says, seeing the move as a good fit with the community building he engages in through his work as a planner. To him, it’s the logical next step in a journey that started in his home country of Iran.
Rad spent much of his youth in Iran, before leaving for a two-year stint in Malaysia when he turned 17. Two years later, in 2007, his father and mother decided they wanted a more stable environment for their family and decided to move to Canada. Rad made the move with them.
“My parents left everything behind to find a new home for us,” Rad says. “My dad left his career as an orthodontist and my mom left everyone she knew so our family could have a better life. I really owe them a lot. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
The family considered several alternatives before choosing Canada, including the United States and Australia, but Rad says in the end the choice was simple.
“It was time to move. Canada is held in high regard for its peacekeeping and open-arms policy toward immigration, so it was an easy decision.”
Rad says it was also an easy decision to stay in Halifax after they arrived. The family considered moving to Toronto or Vancouver, but he says they found the people here to be kind and caring, and Halifax to be a beautiful city, so they stayed.
Rad enrolled in Dalhousie in July of that year.
“At the time I wanted to be an architect, but I discovered a passion for community building so I started taking urban planning.”
Rad started his first internship right after completing his four-year honours program. He spent six months in Paris, then accepted another internship in South America.
“The internship in Guyana was with the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs for eight months. I was working with the indigenous people of Guyana, learning their culture and taking back that knowledge to help build a plan to empower the indigenous people, help them become self-sustainable and combat destruction of the rainforest. This is an import issue in Guyana since 85 per cent of the country is rainforest.”
Rad took a position doing community planning and design with local firm WSP upon his return from Guyana. That’s where he met Greg Zwicker, whom he refers to as his first mentor.
“Greg was the first person out of school to really take a chance on me. I spent five years at WSP and did a lot of work I’m quite proud of,” Rad says. “For example, I worked with some Swedish colleagues to create a platform called CleanTech Matchmaking Platform. It was designed to help startups in cleantech sector be exposed to new ideas and markets in both countries. We took one group from Sweden to major cities across Canada and a group from Canada to Sweden. It culminated in a one-day conference in 2016 to capitalize on the work we did.”
Another conference Rad helped organize took place in 2017, about a year after his departure from WSP. Robert Richardson was looking to modernize his company, Compass Commercial, and hired Rad as his new vice-president of research and development. This meant Rad’s focus shifted more to commercial real estate and it fit in perfectly with the theme of what became known as the Art of City Building conference.
“I worked with Tara Wickwire from National Public Relations, Jennifer Angel and T.J. Maguire from Waterfront Development, now Development Nova Scotia, and Paul MacKinnon from the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. It was designed to help Halifax learn from the experience of other cities in order to grow. It was free to attend and it put architects next to developers, and citizens next to planners. This one degree of separation allowed all disciplines to sit next to one another and really break silos. It was a huge success and has been going on ever since.”
Rad says although his time with Compass only lasted one and a half years, there was a lot of opportunity to learn and Richardson had a lot to do with inspiring him to become an entrepreneur.
“I never thought I would want to do it,” Rad says. “I was always happy being part of a larger company, but Robert had the greatest influence on me. Seeing how he had built his business made me want to try to build my own company. And the timing just worked. Robert decided to sell the company and I wanted to try to build my own, to use my international connections to bring things here and help build our community.”
So, Rad Consulting was born. Rad has worked on several projects since striking out on his own in 2018, including building connections between MIT and Dalhousie, and ongoing consulting in Windsor.
Which brings us back to that restaurant Rad spoke about earlier. In early 2020, he took over the space of Garden Food Bar and Lounge on the corner of Queen and Clyde streets, across from the main branch of the Halifax Public Library. Keeping the look and feel of the space, he brought his own vision to the location through a new company. But a little thing called COVID-19 ended up changing his plans significantly.
Rad says the pandemic caused him to completely rethink the operation. He had to let a lot of great staff go, cutting things back to just himself and his chef, Christopher Spencer, at one point. Despite the steep learning curve, and thanks to advice from people like Joe McGuinness from The Stubborn Goat, Rad says Garden Food has survived its baptism of fire and is carving out its own niche.
“It has been quite a year, taking a place that was struggling at the beginning of the pandemic to what is now quite a popular space in the community,” Rad says. Garden Food now does take-out meals in addition to dining-in when COVID restrictions allow. It does special Family Dinner and Sunday Dinner events, and offers an art residency program that includes a live band and jam session every Thursday and poetry reading on the second Tuesday of each month.
Rad’s success to date was recognized in 2020 when he was chosen as one of the most inspiring immigrants by My East Coast Experience.
“As an immigrant, countless people have supported me and helped me give back to the community. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to thank them and recognize their contributions.”