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Boss scores in hockey and hospitality arenas

Profile of Michael Doyle, executive VP, arena GM, Canucks Sports & Entertainment; president, Toptable Group
Michael Doyle | Photo: Rob Kruyt

At 19, Michael Doyle was slammed into a goalpost while playing with the Victoria Cougars. It was a time when goalposts were fixed in the ice. The resulting injuries were serious and cut short the career of the up-and-coming goalie.

Today, Doyle, 48, has found his way into two major hockey franchises, albeit on a different side of the glass. He has parlayed his love of hockey, along with a passion for the hospitality industry, into top-tier positions as executive vice-president and arena general manager for Canucks Sports & Entertainment (CSE) and president of Toptable Group.

As the Vancouver Canucks go into the 2015-16 season, CSE is planning celebrations to mark 20 years since the opening of Rogers Arena (then GM Place). Making sure every game, every event and every retail outlet runs smoothly falls to Doyle. That means taking care of the approximately 1.3 million visitors to Rogers Arena every year – and that’s just up his alley.

“I’m someone that likes to see people happy,” Doyle said. “When you have a restaurant and you see people come down for two hours, you have the opportunity to make their night and change their lives. That excites me.”

Doyle comes to his positions with a background of many years filled with restaurant and event management, starting as far back as the age of four, he says, when he ran his own lemonade stand. Through his teens, while pursuing hockey, he worked in restaurant chains like Boston Pizza and The Keg. After his injury, he continued in the hospitality industry, working at Blackcomb Mountain and then landing a job as area manager, food and beverage, at the Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS) for five years.

Jeff Stipec, vice-president of hospitality for CSE, has been Doyle’s friend and colleague going back to the 1980s, when Stipec, as general manager at the North Vancouver Keg, was his boss.

Stipec, who also worked with Doyle at Blackcomb in the 1990s, put his friend’s name forward when he heard of the need for “bright young talent” at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, owner of the Maple Leafs, the Raptors and Toronto FC, as well as the Air Canada Centre, BMO Field, Maple Leaf Square, Real Sports Bar and Grill and Real Sports Apparel.

“He’s a pretty big thinker,” Stipec said. “Considering Real Sports in Toronto, there were millions of dollars at stake. He’s bold in those decisions. When a lot of people might back away, Michael just steps right up and he’ll make the decision with confidence, and because of his decision-making, his track record of success is pretty strong.”

Doyle spent a decade as vice-president, food and beverage, at Maple Leaf, before being wooed west by Canucks COO Victor de Bonis in 2011.

“He kept calling,” Doyle said, laughing. “He just didn’t give up. He kept on saying, ‘Family’s calling.’”

The decision to move back to Vancouver and work for the Aquilini Investment group was not a hard one for Doyle. He grew up on the North Shore after his family moved there from Pasadena, so he has family in B.C., and he and his wife, Michelle, were looking to settle down.

He also looked forward to the opportunity to work with the Aquilinis.

“Toronto was very corporate, whereas the Aquilini Group is family-run,” said Doyle, who also appreciates the benefits of the agricultural side of the Aquilinis’ business, which provides direct access to fresh food for the restaurants. And he likes that the Aquilinis allow him creative freedom.

“They’ve given me a great canvas to do what I love and do exciting things.”

Just a few years after joining CSE, however, Doyle’s canvas became quite crowded.

In March 2014, Aquilini Investment Group acquired Toptable Group, which runs Blue Water Cafe, CinCin and West restaurants and Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie in Vancouver, as well as Araxi restaurant in Whistler.

“Having been to many of their restaurants, it was like Christmas when I heard that,” Doyle said. “If there were a restaurant group in Vancouver that is talked about in Toronto, it’s Toptable Group.”

Doyle was immediately named president of the restaurant group. Just a few months later, in July, CSE took over the food and beverage management for Rogers Arena from U.S.-based Aramark, which employed approximately 1,000 concession workers at Rogers Arena. Doyle had to hire new staff and take over services for the arena in just a matter of months. That’s when Doyle contacted his old boss, asking Stipec to help him head up the new team.

As if the big changes at work weren’t enough, in August of that summer, Doyle and his wife had their first baby.

Now, just over a year later, plans are underway for the expansion of Thierry, and the search is on for a location to create a modern steak house to add to the Toptable Group.

Next door to the arena, Doyle is overseeing the construction of a 15,000-square-foot, $8.5 million sports bar (called, aptly enough, the Sports Bar), due to open in spring 2016 as part of a new 26-storey tower.

Doyle is also up in Whistler weekly, overseeing Toptable’s latest venture, the Cellar by Araxi, a private restaurant and meeting space in what used to be the Savage Beagle. It opens for reservations November 16.

In his “spare” time, he’s a newly appointed director of the Tourism Vancouver board and is also a longtime director on the Green Sports Alliance board.

Doyle credits his mom, a single mother who raised four children, with helping to lay the groundwork for his success.

“I definitely got the work ethic from [my mother],” he said. “We had to work hard for what we wanted.”

Though every event puts stadium-sized responsibilities on his shoulders, he allows himself to take a breather once in a while. He doesn’t even have a seat to watch the games, but he does manage to poke his head in every now and then, as he paces the back hallways during a game ensuring everything’s running smoothly (covering more than seven kilometres per game, according to a recent Fitbit test).

Outside of work he and his wife enjoy sailing his 31-foot boat around the B.C. coast.

“We both love the tranquility out on the water – it’s magical here.” •