Martin C. Barry
Montreal-based movie theatre tycoon Vincenzo Guzzo – whose company, Cinémas Guzzo, operates the largest number of film screens and multiplex venues in Quebec and third largest in Canada – was given a grand welcome last week into the Dragons’ Den, one of the CBC’s top prime time TV hits across Canada.
Getting the star treatment
Cinémas Guzzo’s Méga-Plex Lacordaire in Saint-Léonard was the setting for a Hollywood-style evening – complete with “red carpet” treatment – for Guzzo and five of the Dragons.
In the lobby, they basked in the adulation of several hundred adoring fans, while gleefully signing autographs, before watching episode one of Dragons’ Den Season 13 on one of Cinémas Guzzo Lacordaire’s big screens. Vince Guzzo is one of two new Dragons recruited this season to replace former Dragons Joe Mimran and Michael Wekerle.
A Dragons’ Den welcome
Along with another new Dragon (Lane Merrifield), Guzzo joins a cast of entrepreneurs and investors that also includes Arlene Dickinson (who wasn’t present last week for the première), Manjit Minhas, Michele Romanow and longtime regular Jim Treliving this season.
The show, which airs Thursday evenings at 8 pm, is hosted by the CBC’s Dianne Buckner, who hosted another of the national network’s longtime hits, Marketplace, previously. This season’s 20 Dragons’ Den episodes were taped in Toronto over a three-week period.
An empire from one theatre
Vince Guzzo’s father, Angelo, who has almost always maintained a low profile in the company although he remains chairman of the board, was spotted at the launch, but he kept his presence discreet as usual. The senior Guzzo sowed the seeds for what would become Cinémas Guzzo during the early 1970s.
After arriving in Canada from Italy in 1967, and working for several years at an aircraft manufacturer as a machinist, Angelo Guzzo decided to buy a theatre in 1974. What followed some years after this has become part of the lore of the Canadian movie theatre ownership and management business – which up to the 1970s was dominated by corporate interests based largely in the U.S.
He took on ‘the big guys’
According to a biography of Vincenzo Guzzo posted on the CBC website, “Guzzo always believed he could turn his dad’s small theatre business (along with his own law and business degrees) into the mega-scaled empire it is today. He just needed to take on the big guys. In 1998, Vincenzo did just that, when he sued the biggest movie competition in Canada to gain equal opportunity for the little guy to show first-run releases – and won!”
In addition to Cinémas Guzzo’s 141 screens, nine IMAX cinemas and 10 locations (with three more set to open later this year), the 49-year-old Vincenzo Guzzo also has diversified the family’s investments into a construction subsidiary (Groupe Guzzo Construction Inc.), which is a successful general contractor that built all the Guzzo theatres.
Expanding the business
Most recently, Vincenzo has expanded the operations again and become a restaurateur, opening a chain of trendy Italian pork sandwich locations called ‘Porchetta,’ as well as two successful fine-dining establishments, with a third slated to open this past summer. Guzzo is also selling his porchetta (as well as Cinémas Guzzo movie passes) direct to consumers through Costco outlets.
Along the way, Vincenzo Guzzo and his wife, Maria, have become renowned philanthropists, giving generously to numerous hospitals, culminating in the establishment of the Guzzo Family Foundation in 2007. The foundation has aggressively invested in cancer research at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and at McGill University.
The season opener of Dragons’ Den, as well as full episodes during the coming TV season and behind-the-scenes content, can be viewed online at cbc.ca/dragonsden.