Mo Jessa, in an attempt to settle a public relations dust-up over the steaks and burgers Earls serves in its restaurants, spent the past two months travelling to Canadian ranches, riding horses and meeting with folks in the cattle industry.
Mr. Jessa is president of Earls Restaurants Ltd., the chain that in April announced it would only buy meat from an American supplier approved under the Certified Humane program of Humane Farm Animal Care.
That decision shut out the domestic market, leaving some ranchers and Earls' customers – particularly in the Canadian Prairies – insulted.
Earls quickly backtracked and on Wednesday unveiled its new partners – cattle producers and processors on Canadian soil who meet ethical standards similar to those of its American suppliers. The restaurants will now serve Canadian beef in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the company announced Wednesday.
"I made a mistake," Mr. Jessa said in an interview. "I thought that the [humane] criteria was important to people," but the source of supply was not. "What people are saying to us is: 'No. It matters. The source of origin matters.'"
Earls restaurants near rural communities suffered a small drop in business after the original announcement, he said.
The chain's revised supply system means it is paying more for meat, but the executive said Earls will not change its prices. In fact, in an attempt to soothe angry customers, the company is discounting steaks and burgers by $5 this week in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
"We want our customers in Alberta to love us again," Mr. Jessa said. "We couldn't live with the idea that we were doing something that wasn't approved by Canadians."
There are scores of ethical certification systems for meat in North America and many of the criteria overlap. One of Earls' new suppliers – Beretta Farms Inc., which is based in Ontario – is approved by the Global Animal Partnership, according to the restaurant's executive chef, Phil Gallagher.
The Vancouver-based chain said it will try to get Canadian beef that meets its standards into all of its domestic restaurants. Supply, however, remains a problem.
"It is not going to be easy," Mr. Jessa said. "As more of this [meat] becomes available, we'll be the first ones that will put it in restaurants that don't have it."