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Brampton man among those who hit jackpot in Ontario’s cannabis store lottery

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Clint Seukeran has no experience in the cannabis business.

But he’s long been an evangelist for the health and artistic benefits of the newly legalized plant.

Shoppers line up to purchase cannabis from a store in Calgary after recreational marijuana was legalized nationwide in October. The first retail pot stores in Ontario will open by April 1.
Shoppers line up to purchase cannabis from a store in Calgary after recreational marijuana was legalized nationwide in October. The first retail pot stores in Ontario will open by April 1.  (Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press file photo)

Now Seukeran will have the chance to put his passion to practical use, as one of the first 25 people and companies given the chance to apply for a cannabis store licence in Ontario.

He was a winner of the provincial lottery held last week to open up the first group of licences.

“I thought it was junk mail. I thought there’s no way,” the Brampton man said of being notified of his win Friday evening.

Seukeran — who claimed one of the six spots awarded for the regions surrounding Toronto — quickly shifted from disbelief to glee as the news sank in.

“I was elated,” he said. “I was absolutely thrilled to become part of this movement.

“Basically I was in bliss … once I discovered it was real.”

Seukeran faced long odds to claim the opportunity.

The 25 winners, who were notified by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, were selected from some 16,905 applicants by purpose-built lottery software.

That gave entrants a 1-in-676.2 chance of winning. By comparison, Lotto 6/49 offers ticket buyers a 1-in-6.6 chance at some sort of prize.

But industry experts, such as Lift & Co. head Matei Olaru, say the store licences — which the lottery gave winners a chance to apply for — could be worth millions of dollars to the initial shop owners.

Olaru, whose Toronto company acts as an industry resource and information provider, told the Star these first entrants into the brick-and-mortar pot sector will almost certainly prosper from being the earliest recreational merchants in Canada’s most populous province.

"I was elated. I was absolutely thrilled to become part of this movement," said Clint Seukeran, who learned Friday he was one of 25 winners of the province's pot lottery. The win gives him a chance to apply for one of the first cannabis retail licences in Ontario.
« I was elated. I was absolutely thrilled to become part of this movement, » said Clint Seukeran, who learned Friday he was one of 25 winners of the province’s pot lottery. The win gives him a chance to apply for one of the first cannabis retail licences in Ontario.  (supplied)

But Seukeran, who owns the coconut water bottling company CGS Foods Inc., says he’s more interested in the health benefits he’ll help spread than in the monetary rewards.

Once an aspiring doctor, he said he’s been interested in the health effects of marijuana since he came to Canada in 1996 to study medicine.

“I didn’t finish my degree in medicine because I wanted to do something that was preventative rather than a solution,” he said.

“So I decided to get into health foods and healthy natural products, and I was interested in (the active cannabis ingredient CBD) specifically.

“The efficacy of these new compounds were so entrancing for me. I thought they (had) so many uses that I wanted to be part of that health movement.”

While he never sold medical marijuana, Seukeran did earn an MBA in the agriculture and food business from the University of Guelph.

And with a second manufacturing business in his native Trinidad and Tobago, he says he has the financial resources to open and operate his new endeavour.

But Seukeran readily admits the pot business is new to him and that he lacks enough knowledge to get started on his own.

“I’m not involved in the industry. I know nothing about it,” he said. “So I’ll defer to the expertise of the ones who do have it.”

To that end, Seukeran has turned to Cannabis Compliance Inc. of Mississauga to help him navigate his entrance into the trade.

That initial foray includes a rigorous and expensive licensing process that demands applicants provide a $50,000 line of credit to the commission and spend some $10,000 in non-refundable fees for licensing and store permits.

The first stores will be required to open by April 1 or face stiff fines. They will also need to train staff and install security systems, among numerous other compliance requirements.

Of the 25 winning application spots, five are in Toronto proper, six in the rest of the GTA, five more in eastern Ontario, seven in the western part of the province and two in the north.

Seukeran, 39, says he’ll have to wait until Jan. 22 — the deadline for municipalities to decide whether they will allow cannabis retail shops — to choose a store location.

Seukeran, who will submit his licence application under the CGS Foods Inc. label, was one of only seven winners who did not enter the lottery as individuals.

Some 64 per cent of all applicants were listed as sole proprietors, 33 per cent as corporations, and 4 per cent as partnerships and limited partnerships.

Joseph Hall is a Toronto-based reporter and feature writer. Reach him on email: gjhall@thestar.ca

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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