Recipe Unlimited

Recipe Unlimited Corporation is a Canadian company that operates several restaurant chains such as Swiss Chalet, Harvey's and The Keg, and food distribution for large operations.

Recipe Unlimited Corporation
FormerlyCanada Railway News Company (1883–1961)
Aero Caterers Limited (1941–1961)
Cara Operations Limited (1961–2018)
IndustryBranded restaurants
Founded1883; 139 years ago (1883) (CRNP)
1941; 81 years ago (1941) (Aero Caterers)
1961; 61 years ago (1961) (present day company)
FounderThomas Patrick Phelan and family
Number of locations
Key people
Frank Hennessey (CEO)
RevenueIncrease C$1,252 million (2019)[1]
Increase C$44 million (2019)[1]
Total assetsIncrease C$2,264 million (2019)[1]
Total equityIncrease C$345 million (2019)[1]
OwnersCara Holdings Limited
Fairfax Financial[2]
Number of employees
DivisionsEast Side Mario's
Kelseys Original Roadhouse
Montana's BBQ & Bar
New York Fries
Swiss Chalet
The Keg
Pickle Barrel
SubsidiariesPrime Restaurants
Franworks Group

The company was originated in 1883 as Canada Railway News Company that sold newspapers, magazines and confectioneries before moving to the restaurant business. The present company dates to 1961, as Canada Railway News Co. merged with Aero Caterers Limited, founded in 1941 as an airline catering service, to form Cara Operations Limited and the company went public in 1968. The company adopted its present name in May 2018 and its headquarters are in Vaughan, Ontario, a suburb north of Toronto within the Greater Toronto Area.[3][4]


The company was originally chartered in 1883 as Canada Railway News Company, selling newspapers, magazines and confectionaries at railway stations. The company's roots go back to the mid-1850s, when Thomas Patrick Phelan was selling apples and newspapers to train passengers on the Niagara Steamboats.[5] Canada Railway News soon moved into the food business, catering to a boom in passenger rail traffic in Canada. Then, in the 1930s, the company began offering catering services to the airlines and by 1941, Aero Caterers Limited was launched. By 1951, it was serving about 1,500 meals a day.

In 1961, the company merged Canada Railway News Company and Aero Caterers and changed its name to Cara Operations Limited. The name Cara was derived from the first two letters of each of the words "Canada Railway".

Cara was owned solely by the Phelan family from its inception in 1883 until it went public in 1968. At that time, its primary business was catering to the transportation sector (airline and rail meals), but it did operate restaurants and coffee shops in various office towers and airport terminals in Canada. Total sales of all the various operations was C$30 million in 1968.

In 1977, Cara Operations purchased Foodcorp Limited in a deal that included restaurants like Swiss Chalet and Harvey's. Cara Operations also went on to purchase Milestones, Montana's, and Kelsey's in 2002. In the same year, sales for the company were C$1.9 billion. 88% of the business comes from the restaurant services, with the remaining 12% deriving from airline catering.[6]

On February 26, 2004, Cara went private, with the Phelan heiresses buying out the minority for $8 a share or $345 million,[7] after a short battle in which they had offered $7.625 a share for the 46.5% of the company they didn't own.[8] At the time, Cara fully owned Swiss Chalet, Harvey's, Second Cup, Kelsey's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, and Montana's Cookhouse. It owned as a franchisee Eastern Canadian Outback Steakhouse restaurants.[8]

In 2010, Cara Operations exited the airline catering business with the sale of Cara Airline Solutions.

In 2014, Cara had EBITDA of $84 million on sales of $1.7 billion,[9] but had a 6.4 debt leverage ratio when Bill Gregson assumed the presidency of the firm, because the funds obtained via the sale of non-core-asset had been used, not to pay down debt but instead to expand the business.[10]

In March 2015, Cara IPO was brokered by Fairfax Financial. Through it, the company raised $200 million, and merged in a 7:8 ratio with Fairfax's East Side Mario's, Casey's and the Bier Markt properties. The $200 million represented a 23% stake in the combined business, and the heiresses had in 2015 realised a valuation of roughly $300 million. The services of Bill Gregson were acquired in the deal by the merged company.[9]

In May 2018, then Chief Executive Officer Bill Gregson announced that Cara Operations Limited would be changing its name to Recipe Unlimited Corporation and would be traded under the new stock symbol "RECP".[4]

On October 1, 2018, the company was hit by a malware attack, requiring closure of many of its restaurants in Canada. The attack required some restaurants to continue as cash-only operations until at least the following day. Some locations were without point-of-sale systems and also without electronic payment methods for almost a week.[11]

On August 9, 2022, Fairfax Financial proposed to take the company private for $954 million.[12]

Labour issuesEdit

Beginning October 5, 2015, female employees at all Bier Markt locations were required to wear tight blue mini-dresses, and heels or boots as footwear on the job. The work outfit practice applied to employees at locations in Ontario and Quebec who had previously worn black pants and golf shirt as a uniform. After the CBC investigated complaints of gender discrimination, Cara modified its outfit practice to allow employees to wear the original gender-neutral uniform.[13]

In early 2018, Cara's CEO and President Bill Gregson announced that the recent Ontario minimum wage hike to $14 an hour had not adversely affected revenues, with sales going up throughout most of Ontario.[14]


In 1977, Cara purchased FoodCorp Limited which included Swiss Chalet and Harvey's.

In 2002, Cara purchased Kelseys Inc. from owner Paul Jeffery, acquiring Montanas, Kelseys and the Outback (Canada). The rights to Outback steakhouse were owned in Canada by Cara, but it was sold back to Outback in the USA because of high food costs.[15]

In 2013, Cara came to an agreement with Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. to make Prime Restaurants a wholly owned subsidiary of Cara.[16] This added restaurants such as Casey's, East Side Mario's, Bier Markt and Prime Pubs to its operations.

In 2014, Cara acquired the Landing Group Restaurants.

On August 31, 2015, Cara announced that it would be acquiring New York Fries. South St. Burger would not be part of the acquisition.[17]

On March 31, 2016, Cara Operations announced that it would acquire St-Hubert Chicken CAD$537 million.[18][19]

On September 1, 2016, Cara Operations acquired Franworks Group, and its Original Joe's, State & Main, and Elephant & Castle brands.[20]

In 2017, Cara acquired The Pickle Barrel.

In January 2018, Cara Operations merges with The Keg[21] and changes their name to Recipe Unlimited Corporation. The $200M deal closed on February 22, 2018.[22]

In 2021, Recipe Unlimited acquired the controlling interest of Burger's Priest.



As of 2021, Recipe Unlimited has over 1,300 restaurants within Canada.[23]

Restaurant operationsEdit

Former restaurantsEdit

  • Gatineau Brew Works
  • Pizza Grillia
  • Steak n'Burger
  • Toast! Cafe & Grill
  • Milestones
  • Coza Tuscan Grill

Correctional facilities and prisonsEdit

Under their subsidiary Summit Food Services, Cara provided commissary and kitchen services to correctional facilities internationally.[28] Sold by Cara to an investor group in 2007, Summit Food Service Distributors Inc., now a division of Colabor LP, is Canada's largest Canadian-owned broadline distributor to the food service industry.

Airline cateringEdit

Cara servicing a Czech Airlines flight in Montreal in February 2008.

Cara Airline Solutions business assets were sold on November 8, 2010, to Gate Gourmet (GateGroup).[29] Before November 8, 2010, Cara controlled 85% of the Canadian airline market, providing meals for more than 60 of the world's major airlines including KLM, American Airlines, British Airways and Air Canada. Meals were prepared at Cara's nine flight kitchens located across Canada.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "RECP". Recipe Unlimited. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  2. ^ "Cara Announces Appointment of Frank Hennessey as Chief Executive Officer". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  3. ^ "WSJ Company Information
  4. ^ a b c "Cara Reports Q1 2018 Results Led by Solid Same Store Sales Growth". CNW. 10 May 2018. Archived from the original on 8 June 2018.
  5. ^ Pitts, Gordon (11 October 2003). "The fight for Cara's soul". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 17 April 2016.
  6. ^ "Cara loses, but the Phelan family wins". The Globe and Mail. 11 Nov 2003.
  7. ^ "Cara minority back higher bid; company going private". CBC News. 24 Feb 2004.
  8. ^ a b "Cara shareholder to fight takeover". CBC News. 27 Jan 2004.
  9. ^ a b "Swiss Chalet aims to raise $200 million". Toronto Star. 23 Mar 2015.
  10. ^ "Why This Underperforming Restaurant Stock Can Outperform". The Motley Fool Canada, ULC. 22 Mar 2017.
  11. ^ Harris, Sophia. "Swiss Chalet, Harvey's, other big chains hit by 'malware outbreak'". CBC. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  12. ^ "Canada's Fairfax proposes C$1.2 bln takeover bid for Recipe". Reuters. 2022-08-09. Retrieved 2022-08-10.
  13. ^ Marchitelli, Rosa (2 November 2015). "Bier Markt's skimpy dress code called 'sexist and discriminatory'". CBC News. Archived from the original on 6 November 2015.
  14. ^ Paddon, David (12 March 2018). "Restaurant operator Cara says Ontario's minimum wage hike has been manageable". Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  15. ^ :Cara Operations Limited: Archived 2004-07-16 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Shaw, Hollie (31 October 2013). "Cara, Fairfax's Prime Restaurants to merge". Archived from the original on 5 October 2015.
  17. ^ "Cara Operations Limited announces purchase of New York Fries" (Press release). 31 August 2015. Archived from the original on 4 August 2016.
  18. ^ Paddon, David (31 March 2016). "In rotisserie chicken marriage, owner of Swiss Chalet buys St-Hubert for $537M". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 23 December 2016.
  19. ^ "Cara announces purchase of St-Hubert" (Press release). 31 March 2016. Archived from the original on 10 August 2016.
  20. ^ "Cara and Original Joe's Franchise Group Inc. Enter into partnership to reacquire Original Joe's trademarks and royalty rights from Diversified Royalty Corp".
  21. ^ Crawford Hampel, Emma (23 January 2018). "Swiss Chalet, Montana's owner Cara to buy the Keg in $200m deal". Business in Vancouver. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  22. ^ Deschamps, Tara (23 January 2018). "The Keg steakhouse chain to be sold to Swiss Chalet owner Cara Operations in $200M deal". Global News. Archived from the original on 23 January 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  23. ^ "Cara Operations Limited Declares Dividend and Increases Fourth Quarter Dividend by 5%". CNW. 9 March 2018. Archived from the original on 10 March 2018.
  24. ^ "New York Fries". New York Fries. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  25. ^ a b c d "Cara Operations Limited announces purchase of Pickle Barrel". CNW. Retrieved 16 October 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  26. ^ "Cara Operations to merge with Keg Restaurants Ltd". CNW. Retrieved 23 January 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  27. ^ "Recipe Unlimited Announces the Acquisition of Original Fresh Restaurants and Remaining Minority Interest in Fresh". 23 November 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. ^ "About Summit". Summit Food That Drives Positive Behavior. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  29. ^ "gategroup completes acquisition of Cara Airline Solutions" (Press release). 8 November 2010. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 43°41′27″N 79°37′26″W / 43.690824°N 79.623928°W / 43.690824; -79.623928