“San Francisco must be the pizza capital of the world; every neighbourhood has a dedicated pizza restaurant, and in my opinion the pizza is better there than anywhere else in the world – strong words, I know,” says Jayme MacFayden, BMeX Restaurant Group co-founder.
MacFayden has always loved food, taking cooking classes in her hometown of Kamloops, and cooking dinner parties for her parents in her early teens. After high school, an exchange program in Belgium provided the opportunity to travel for a year, to experience new cultures, and develop a love of wine. But on returning to Canada, the future was less obvious, and she started studying French literature, switching to photojournalism, and ultimately achieving a graduate certificate in public relations management.
A vacation in the Turks and Caicos Islands with partner Kelly Black, turned into fulltime work and they quit their jobs to move there. But the Caribbean shuts down for the summer, so in 2006, they decided to give booming Calgary a try. MacFayden loved working at the Living Room, then at Merlo Vinoteca to learn more about wine, but the couple dreamed of opening a small restaurant that would make its mark and add to the city.
They took an entrepreneurship course, and spent three years working on a plan for a French brasserie, but locations and leases continually fell through. Finally, in 2009, they found a space, but it was too small.
“We did a total 180, rewrote our business plan, and started working on a Californian-inspired pizza place,” says MacFayden. “We loved the feel of those places.”
And so Una Pizza + Wine was born.
Wanting somewhere for their customers to have a drink while waiting in line for pizza, they opened Ox and Angela a year or so later, and other opportunities followed quickly. Last year, a couple wanted to open Una in Saskatoon, a member of staff came with a business plan for a Mexican taqueria, and the space next door to Una became available.
“I would say I was a bit addicted to conceptualising restaurants; building them is a lot of fun,” MacFayden says. Now, as well as Una Calgary, Una Saskatoon, and Native Tongues, this year the couple have opened Una Takeaway and passion project Frenchie wine bar.
So what bottle has MacFayden saved for a special occasion?
“Borie de Maurel is from Minervois, in the south of France, and I had the opportunity to visit them in 2010,” she explains. “Where they live is really rustic, everything is done by hand – they still plough the fields with a horse. This family has an almost poetic philosophy about wine, and all their wines have really romantic descriptions, it’s very sensual and seductive.”
“They are so hands-on and passionate about what they do,” she continues. “They’re really putting their heart and soul and blood into the production, and they feel that it’s an extension of themselves. I feel the same about my restaurants – they are an extension of myself. After spending time with them, I fell in love with what they’re doing, and I feel like I can taste that in the wine.”
And when is she going to open the bottle?
MacFayden laughs and says, “I think tonight actually! I have a date with my sister so we’ll open it and probably swing by Metrovino and share it with them, as they were the ones that introduced me and gave me the opportunity to visit this producer, so they deserve to share in it too.”