Alumni Feature: Aaron Ciancone

February 7, 2024

ALUMNI FEATURE: Aaron Ciancone, Pearle Hospitality

Stratford Chefs School Alumnus Aaron Ciancone (Class of 1997) has hospitality in his genes! Currently the President of Pearle Hospitality, Aaron has been a longtime supporter and friend of the School since graduating in 1997. The company he heads alongside his sister Leanne Ciancone, has a wonderful history we wanted to share.

The Ciancone family has been in the hospitality business for three generations, beginning in 1936, when entrepreneur, wife, chef and mother, Pearle Ciancone – Aaron’s grandmother – opened Hillcrest Dairy in Hamilton with her husband Jim. As “the heart behind the company,” Pearle was a true trailblazer whose work ethic, business acumen, passion, love of history and meticulous attention to detail made Hillcrest a tremendous success.

Hillcrest Restaurant came next in the 1950’s, and became a place where generations of Hamiltonians celebrated weddings, birthdays, and more. It was a community focal point for decades, largely thanks to Pearle’s big-hearted hospitality. The company’s name and inspiration are drawn from her legacy.

In 1979, Ron and David Ciancone followed in their mother’s footsteps and purchased the Ancaster Mill property, opening a landmark restaurant in the Ancaster community. A place to gather with friends and family and to enjoy delicious food in beautiful surroundings, Ancaster Mill became the template for Pearle Hospitality properties to come. Aaron and his sister Leanne (pictured below) later took over the business from their parents, Ron and Marylou.

Pearle Hospitality is no stranger to old mills and historic properties, as well as new builds. Their portfolio includes the Ancaster Mill, Elora Mill, Cambridge Mill, Bread Bar (Guelph and Hamilton), Whistle Bear Golf Club and Spencer’s at the Waterfront in Burlington, as well as a farm, and Pearle Weddings & Events, a group specializing in staging spectacular weddings and events at Pearle Hospitality’s venues. Many Stratford Chefs School graduates find employment opportunities in the kitchens of Pearle Hospitality’s fine dining establishments. 

Originally built in 1859, the Elora Mill underwent a two-year extensive restoration process under Aaron’s leadership, to reopen in 2018. 

What gets me excited is bringing something back to life, taking something that was not doing so well, or had been neglected, giving it the attention it deserves and making something great out of it. – Aaron Ciancone

Perched on top of the breathtaking Elora Gorge and complete with stunning architectural and interior design, Elora Mill is now host to a renowned spa and restaurant with a gorgeous exclusive event facility in the mill’s original granary. The mill itself is a piece of history and a fixture in the centre of Elora. Nestled along the scenic Grand River, this historic property offers a captivating blend of natural beauty and architectural charm.

We’re thrilled to be celebrating our 2024 GALA Dinner and Auction at Pearle Hospitality‘s one-of-a-kind Elora Mill on Sunday, March 10. We hope you can join us!

Thank you to Aaron Ciancone, Pearle Hospitality and the Elora Mill team for your dedication to fine hospitality and your ongoing support of the School and our Graduates.

Photo above: Brother and sister team Aaron Ciancone and Leanne Ciancone | by Mathew McCarthy; Feature written by Rose Simone, GRAND MAGAZINE

Tickets on sale NOW!

You will not want to miss our opulent End of Year Gala celebrating our Class of 2024 and the 40th Anniversary of the Stratford Chefs School. We’re thrilled that Elora Mill Hotel & Spa, one of Canada’s premiere Hotels, is our generous venue partner this year. Mark your calendar now for Sunday, March 10, 2024 for a fabulous celebration in support of Stratford Chefs School.

The evening will include:

* Bubbly and Hors d’Oeuvres

An exquisite multi-course Stratford Chefs School Dinner with curated wines.

Exciting Silent and Live Auctions of unique items and experiences.

Menu and Dinner execution by the SCS Chef Instructor Team and Graduating Class of 2024.

Gala Tickets are $225 per person

* * * * * * * *

Additional Options:

Let Us Drive: Return Coach transportation from Stratford to Elora is available to book for $25 per person when you reserve your Gala tickets.

Stay the Night: Very limited number of Mill Bedrooms are available at Elora Mill starting at $550 per night +HST.


Thank you to our GALA Sponsors:
Reception Sponsor: NICKEL 9 DISTILLERY
Reception Sponsor: Ryan Crawford (Class of 1999) | RUFFINO’S PASTA BAR AND GRILL



Delicious food, inventive and so eagerly and happily presented and consumed!! I love dining at the Chefs School.

-Rosemary, October 31, 2023


The intersection of education, hospitality and passion at which the SCS Staff live and work is phenomenal, and the dedication and care that they each bring to every aspect of their role at the Chefs School is the reason that this institution is so special. I’ve learned so very much about this industry and about life while I’ve been here, but the biggest lesson I will take away from any of this is the importance of giving a damn. All of you give a damn, and it has changed lives at this place since 1983.”

Jonathon Farrell | Stratford Chefs School Class of 2023 Valedictorian

The Stratford Chefs School provides the training to create world-class chefs who are comfortable working in any kitchen environment. Its immersive, approachable, interactive curriculum provided me with the tools and confidence that I needed early on in my career to make the transition from the school setting to the workforce. Perhaps most important to me are the lasting friendships that were made, the ongoing support from the SCS community, and exciting collaborations with other alumni.”

Alondra Galvez | Owner/Chef, El Cactus Taco Shop | Stratford Chefs School Class of 2003

The Stratford Chefs School offers an unparalleled learning environment in which students are immersed in a hands-on, realistic approach of what to expect in the culinary industry. My experience at the Stratford Chefs School exposed me to various cuisines, a limitless spectrum of cooking techniques, and an opportunity to work directly with renowned chefs. The calibre of the instructors, and their cumulative experience in the field, laid the foundation on which I could build the confidence I needed in order to pursue my career path.”

Yva Santini | Chef, The Flour Mill, St. Marys | Stratford Chefs School Class of 2009

At the Chefs School, I was given the opportunity to challenge myself, and expand the limits of my culinary skill and knowledge. SCS gave me the ability to trust in my own skill and allowed me to expand my knowledge. Now I confidently pass that skill and knowledge to my students.”

Mel Athulathmudali | Teacher, Strata Montessori | Owner, Chef Mel Catering | Stratford Chefs School Class of 2016



QUESTIONS? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page or email Admissions at:

Photography by Terry Manzo (SCS Class of 1985)

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