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As one of the winners of Ernst & Young’s ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR PACIFIC REGION program, Jeffrey Fuller submitted himself to intense scrutiny by a top accounting firm and hard-nosed panel of judges, and came out on top. He was deemed a winner in the category of Hospitality and Tourism.

Jeffrey Fuller is the President of Joeys Restaurants.

Jeff Fuller, the son of veteran B.C. restaurateur Bus Fuller and head of Joeys Restaurants (a group that also ¬includes Edmonton’s OPM Asian Bistro and Cucina Cucina locations in Seattle), typically makes a point of working out soon after he gets up. It’s a defense against the busyness of the day, which can easily crowd out the necessary business of staying fit. But this summer, with preparations for a new restaurant in Vancouver and deals for other sites in the works, Fuller was more often getting his time out behind the wheel of his black BMW X5. Providing the traffic isn’t heavy, commuting to and from the Joeys head office in Coquitlam gives Fuller, 40, an opportunity to gear up for a day at the office or decompress before rejoining his wife Kelly, five-year-old daughter Ireland and two-and-a-half-year-old son Hudson at home in West Vancouver. The long days are paying off, however. Joeys sales are on track to top $78 million in 2006, and sales at OPM and Cucina Cucina will likely account for another $14 million. Fuller is also pursuing an aggressive expansion strategy to add 20 restaurants to the Joeys group by 2010. Ontario is a long-term goal, but for the moment Fuller is ramping up expansion in B.C. and Alberta. Fuller explains that he keeps his fingers on the main aspects of Joeys despite having drawn together a team that is able to work by itself. “I’m not constantly pushing those people; they’re pushing me,” he says. Stepping into the chic dark vestibule of the new Joeys in Vancouver’s South Granville neighbourhood, Fuller is affable, engaging in straight-up banter with staff, one of whom mentions that actor Eric McCormack (who plays gay lawyer Will Truman on the U.S. sitcom Will & Grace) is in for lunch. A small plate of California Sushi Tacos ¬arrives. Fuller describes them as a reinterpretation of the California roll in a crisp won ton wrapper. It’s an illustration of the creative ¬approach culinary director Chris Mills has taken to the Joeys menu, Fuller says. (The menu ¬includes everything from classic burgers to Lobster Ravioli and a Panang Prawn Curry Bowl.) “We didn’t want any limitations on what we could be,” Fuller adds. Fuller’s ambitious growth plans for Joeys may require some limits, however. He would like to see a more consistent public image for the restaurants, something that hasn’t always existed for outlets known variously as Joey Tomato’s, Joey Tomato’s Mediterranean Grill, Joey’s Global Grill and just plain Joeys. While the diversity has established the Joeys identity as “a chain but not chain-like,” Fuller wants to streamline operations as the company grows from 14 to 31 locations over the next four years. The last thing he wants is to relive the days of “battlefield promotions” that characterized the chain’s initial growth in the mid-1990s. Having cut his teeth in the late 1980s with an A&W outlet serving cross-border shoppers at the Bellis Fair mall in Bellingham, Fuller launched Joeys in 1992 with an outlet on Macleod Trail in southwest Calgary. A family-oriented pizza and pasta menu propelled the chain to $23 million in sales by the late 1990s, but Fuller found it took more than a gut feeling to run the business. “Four or five years in, I really started to ¬realize how much I didn’t know,” he says. “We never got close to failing, but we certainly had flat sales.” Fuller began focusing on the casual fine dining niche, a move that boosted sales figures and improved margins. Average per-store sales rose from just under $2.6 million in 1997 to $6.5 million today, the highest in Western Canada. In 2004, Fuller acquired Cucina Cucina, a group of eight restaurants in Washington State and Oregon formerly owned by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. The acquisition gave Fuller a solid footing in the U.S. as he follows in the steps of his ¬father, whom he credits with setting the example for his own approach to the restaurant business. “My father’s always been an unbelievable risk-taker,” he says.