Quitting Practice: The Lawyer Behind Kupfert & Kim
Daniel Suss is the lawyer behind the spectacularly popular Toronto vegan restaurant chain Kupfert & Kim. Founded in 2013, Kupfert & Kim has already grown to six locations in Toronto and they have no intention of stopping there.
We recently sat down with Daniel to find out all about his story before Kupfert & Kim, the world of law, and how he got to where he is today.
The Road to Law School
Daniel Suss didn’t consider law school until after he completed his undergraduate degree in the medical sciences. Although he enjoyed his studies, he did not see himself as a doctor or a scientist in a lab, so he wanted to explore other subjects and careers.
He first looked to music. His band, The Lovely Feathers, was doing well and so they decided to hit the road and tour North America. While on the road, Daniel and his bandmate Mark noticed that there were not many restaurants offering healthy, affordable, and quickly prepared food options.
Although Daniel describes touring with The Lovely Feathers as a great time in his life, he knew that it was not what he wanted to do forever. Wanting to further his education, and also becoming more and more interested in law, led him to believe that law school was the logical next step. He applied and was admitted to McGill University.
“There was definitely a crowd of people that were certain about law being their path in life, and the other half of people that weren’t entirely sure what they were doing there. I was more a part of the latter.”
In law school, Daniel focused on studying immigration, corporate, and energy law. He enjoyed the fast pace of learning a lot, and he met many great people. His last semester was spent on exchange at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
After spending some extra time in Sydney, Daniel came to Toronto and began articling at Stikeman Elliot. At this time, he was in talks with his friend and bandmate Mark, about starting a restaurant. At first, Daniel was just helping Mark start up the business without knowing that he would later be a 50/50 partner. While still articling, Daniel was scouting locations with Mark for the very first Kupfert & Kim.
At Stikeman, Daniel focused mostly on corporate law, specifically real estate and energy law. Although he only articled, Daniel is grateful for his experience and the skills he gained, which continue to be utilized in the restaurant business.
“You always deal with fine print no matter who you are.”
Daniel Suss left his job while still looking for the perfect restaurant location. He reveals that getting a great location for their first store was one of the biggest challenges and it took a lot of patience. It was a year and a half process from the day they started scouting to the day they opened Kupfert & Kim at First Canadian Place. In fact, Mark and Daniel had to make their food for the landowners in order to get considered. They spent months negotiating and planning until they could finally open for business.
Taking on a New Role
After that, they introduced Kupfert & Kim, a plant-based, minimally-processed, gluten-free restaurant that provides quick and friendly service. They opened the restaurant on the values of providing healthy meals that are good for people and good for the environment. They have fresh produce delivered every morning, they thoroughly vet their suppliers, and they design their meals to have a balance of protein, carbs and fat. They also source local ingredients, produce very little waste, and provide compostable takeout containers.
When they first opened, Daniel spent most of his time working as a cashier and on the floor making sure everything was running smoothly. He got to interact with his customers and watch the business take off from the get-go.
Daniel had grown up in a very healthy-conscious family and he has a passion for the food and values they promote. However, having not had any previous experience in the restaurant business, Daniel had to learn a lot in the process.
“We just asked the right people the right questions, all while sticking to our basic goals: providing healthy food that’s quick and not very expensive.”
Daniel has come a long way since working the cash at his first store. Kupfert & Kim now has six locations in Toronto, and it is Daniel’s job to keep them growing. His job involves scouting locations, meeting and negotiating with investors, while also making sure Kupfert & Kim’s values and needs are met. He also handles many big picture items such as menu development, lease issues, basic infrastructure issues, and generally looking toward the future of the business.
Although Daniel did not practice for very long, he recognizes many similarities between practicing and running a business that made him better equipped to take on this new challenge. He had to learn a lot about the business, “everything from plumbing to food handling”, as he says. However, because of his experience in law, he knew how to execute things like obtaining permits, negotiating leases, drafting employment agreements, and giving insight into the legal side of the business.
“I understand the system better, and even just strictly legal things such as dealing with the government, knowing at what point something might go to court, or when to get a lawyer, goes a long way.”
In terms of advice, Daniel tells us that someone thinking about leaving law shouldn’t be focused so much on leaving, but on what they will be going into. If it is something enticing and you have prospects for it, then that’s what you should do.
“If you’re having a horrible time in law then that’s a push to figure out what that thing is.”
With having a successful business, Daniel emphasizes how much trust he has for, and how much he relies on, his employees.
“It only works because of the good team that we’ve built. They are responsible and care about the project, and I can trust them to run everything.”
Daniel followed his interest and ended up on an unexpected career path. Being open to opportunity and willing to learn are really important in changing your career.
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