Immigration matters in food services


The food services sector is one of the top employers in Canada. There are 1.16 million employees in the sector, an increase of 9% since 2015. But restaurant and other food service businesses still need workers.

As of September 2019, more than 67,000 jobs were unfilled, more than any other main sector of the Canadian economy. In 2019, more than half of Restaurants Canada’s members had trouble finding workers for “back-of-house” jobs (Restaurants Canada, 2019 employer survey). Immigrants will remain an important source of workers for this industry in the years ahead.

Impact of immigration

  • More than 1 out of every 4 workers in the food and beverage sector are immigrants.
  • The food and beverage sector employed 11% of all working immigrants who arrived here between 2011 and 2016, making it the top employer of recent immigrants in Canada.
  • Across the country, immigrants make up more than half (53%) of business owners with paid staff in the food and beverage sector.
  • New immigrants are helping to grow the food services sector. In 2016, more than 3,200 recent immigrants across the country owned a food or beverage business.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from the Statistics Canada 2016 Census.

Percentage of business owners** in the food and beverage sector who are immigrants
Percentage of business owners in the food and beverage sector who are immigrants - Text version below
Text version: Percentage of business owners** in the food and beverage sector who are immigrants
  • Canada: 53%
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 40%
  • Prince Edward Island: 22%
  • Nova Scotia: 39%
  • New Brunswick: 33%
  • Quebec: 37%
  • Ontario: 59%
  • Manitoba: 53%
  • Saskatchewan: 49%
  • Alberta: 59%
  • British Columbia: 61%
  • Yukon: 29%
  • Northwest Territories: 80%
  • Nunavut: Data not applicable

Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census

** Defined as self-employed persons with paid employees.

See infographic on the impact of immigration on food services

Famous Canadian immigrants

Vikram Vij

Indian-Canadian celebrity chef Vikram Vij is the owner of Vancouver restaurants Vij and Rangoli, as well as My Shanti in Surrey. He’s also an author of 4 books, his most recent being Vij: A Chef’s One-Way Ticket to Canada with Indian Spices in his Suitcase and appeared on such TV shows as Dragon’s Den, Recipe to Riches, Top Chef Canada and Chopped Canada. His culinary work has earned him the BC Food Processors Association’s Rising Star Award and Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Susur Lee

Susur Lee, originally from Hong Kong, is the owner of 3 restaurants in Toronto: Lee, Lee Kitchen and Kid Lee. As a result of his success, Food and Wine Magazine named him one of the Ten Chefs of the Millenium in 2000. He’s also a judge on popular TV shows such as Chopped Canada, Lifetime’s Masterchef Asia and appeared on Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters.

Massimo Capra

Born in Italy, Chef Massimo Capra moved to Toronto in 1982 after working several years in luxury hotels around Europe. He’s now the owner of Rainbow Room in Niagara Falls, as well as Boccone Trattoria Veloce, Boccone Pronto and Capra’s Kitchen, all located in Toronto. As well as a chef, he’s also an author of 2 cookbooks, was the food editor for Canadian Home Trends Magazine and has appeared on the Food Network’s Restaurant Makeover and Chopped Canada.

Michael Smith

Chef Michael Smith was born in the U.S., but now lives in PEI. He has hosted numerous shows on the Food Network such as Chef Michael’s Kitchen, Chef Abroad, Chef at Home, Chef at Large and was a judge on Chopped Canada. He’s also the author of successful cookbooks, owns his own food media production company and was responsible for the team of chefs cooking for Olympians during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. In 2019, Chef Michael Smith was awarded the Order of Canada.

Antonio Park

Chef Antonio Park was born in Argentina to Korean parents and immigrated to Canada in 1990. He’s a well-recognized celebrity chef in Montréal, as the owner of both the Park and Lavanderia restaurants. He also starred as a judge on Chopped Canada.

Dimitrios “Jimmy” Antonopoulos

Dimitrios “Jimmy” Antonopoulos immigrated to Canada from Greece. He’s the founder and owner of the Jimmy the Greek chain of quick-service restaurants, which grew from a single location into a thriving enterprise with more than 55 locations nationwide.

Mike Timani

Born in Lebanon, Mike Timani is the President and CEO of Fancy Pokket Bakery, based in Moncton, New Brunswick. Fancy Pokket is currently Atlantic Canada’s largest producer of pita bread, bagels, flatbreads and tortilla wraps. He’s also Chair of the Food Processing Skills Canada.

Immigrant stories in food services

Tackling food insecurity in Canada’s North

The Arctic Food Bank—founded by the Muslim Welfare Centre and staffed by immigrant and Indigenous volunteers—has served hundreds of Inuvik residents since 2015.

Feeding it forward – 1 sandwich at a time

The owner of a Toronto eatery offers a unique way for customers to help feed those in need and build a strong community – all for less than $4.

Making Canada a culinary champion

PEI may be Canada’s smallest province, but thanks to a chef originally from Switzerland, it’s earning a big name as a food lover’s destination.

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