A friend of ours lives in the neighborhood and reccomended the place to us, which has quickly become a Filipino institution. The food was delicious, and Toronto native Gerald was more than kind enough to sit with us for a chat about his restaurant.
Sadi: Hey, so I just want to start by asking you how business is going these days.
Gerald: It’s great. I can’t complain. I mean it’s all thanks to Social Media.
Sadi: Has it always been like this?
Gerald: No. Initially we started as a takeout place. Because of the neighborhood. The original plan for the restaurant was a la carte. But the neighborhood didn’t accept a la carte because it’s a working class area. So, they wanted just the food and to go home. So I started with just one table here with four chairs.
S: How long have you been open here now?
G: We opened in August of 2015. Relatively new. Well it’s all thanks to the Social Media as I said. BlogTo came in, and I have to thank them a lot. Because of them I skyrocketed the business. When I started, I only had like 4 to 8 tables, Kamayan, the one that you guys had, was served like twice a month. Per request only, like someone wanted to have a party, and we would do it for them, because we had a BBQ outside. So that’s how it started.
S: Today I noticed that almost everybody ordered the Kamayan.
G: That’s what we’re known for man. Kamayan.
Andrew: And it’s funny because it seems like it started out almost as an accident.
G: Yes, you can say it’s an accident because it wasn’t part of the plan. Our plan was takeout and catering and I can’t even do that anymore. We’re busy as it is doing this.
S: Are you getting enough sleep?
G: No! Four hours. We’re working fourteen hours a day here. It’s a lot of preparation. You guys have seen the amount of people that come in, it’s a lot. I have two people just doing BBQ…I ran out of dessert. We cook Turon, we go through about 350 a day. It’s plantain wrapped in a spring roll, we deep fry it with caramelized sugar. Somebody comes here at 4 o’clock in the morning to start preparing it.
Andrew: And how many Kamayans do you do a day?
G: No freaking idea. I stopped counting man. Don’t even bother counting, just…be ready. That’s it. We try to push it out as fast as we can, as much as we can, but especially on the weekend, sometimes we’re still underprepared.
A: I noticed you guys were pretty efficient, because you have many different types of food.
G: Well yeah, after cooking for 300 people on the weekend, you kind of have to know what to do. Otherwise, you’re behind and people are gonna get angry. And we like to serve it hot.
S: In a Kamayan, what’s your favorite dish to go for?
G: Me? I like all of it.
S: If you were going to die tomorrow, and you were going to have one last meal, what would your last meal be?
G: My wife.
S: Okay I’ll try and save this. What would she cook?
G: Man, I don’t know. We’re in Toronto, like we live here. It’s a very diverse place. I don’t know what I’m feeling that day. Today I was just feeling like I was gonna eat Tilapia, yesterday I felt like eel, so I go to the Danforth. Depending on the day…it’s hard to say.
S: Do you have a favorite place?
G: Like I said, it depends on the day, depends on the mood. I was a foodie once, I’d go all around the city. Swatow for example, I used to go to in high school but I still go to today. If I feel like eating Yeungchow, that’s the only place I go. If I’m feeling like it that day, I don’t care what time of the day it is, I go there. If I feel like I wanted to eat Peking Duck, I’d go to Markham and eat my Peking Duck there. If I wanted Hakka, I’d go to Morningside and Lawrence. Lucky Leaf.
A: Before you got into the restaurant business, what were you doing before, and what made you want to enter this business?
G: I didn’t know what to do…in life. I was a lost kid. So, like many of you, I tried a whole bunch of stuff. I was a contractor, I worked as a security guard, factory worker, I was in the army for four years, I took culinary management at George Brown while I was in the army, I worked in the industry for like 3 years. I was working with this German guy at the corner of Laird and Eglinton. It was called Marvelous Edible, they served French, Italian, German. I learned a lot from him, I started as a busboy until I worked my way into the kitchen. I was with him for almost three years, until I realized, I had to do something else. Being in the kitchen is hard eh? It’s one of the hardest jobs. When it’s busy you’re constantly moving. There’s no break. You know when they say, ‘Oh you work 4 hours and then you take your break?’ Screw that! Working in the kitchen man, you don’t take a break, you take a break when you stop cooking. Like now. Five, six hours straight, you’re just doing it, you need to feed everybody. But what made us open the restaurant? It was accidental. I was a contractor, but I had the background of working in the kitchen. When we purchased the building, there was a laundromat here. So we ran that for about 2 years, and then the machines started breaking down. And then I had a quotation, if we were going to replace the machines, it would cost us more money than if we were going to turn it into a restaurant.
A: What was going through your head at the time?
G: I knew that I wanted a restaurant. I knew.
S: Was there anything about owning a restaurant that surprised you? Like you thought it was going to be one way but it ended up being different?
G: A lot man. Every day it still surprises me. When I opened, like I said, originally I wanted it to be a la carte. But when your sales end up being like $100 a day, you have to switch up instantly. When you see people going somewhere else because they can’t wait 5-10 minutes for food, then what? You have to adjust, so you start doing the takeout. The sales when up a little bit. We just tried a whole bunch of stuff until we had whatever it is now.
S: What’s your favorite part about owning a restaurant?
G: Talking to people like you. Having fun with the people in the kitchen. It’s like…play. We’re having fun in the kitchen. We’re making jokes, we don’t want to tense up the environment. Every time I have the chance to talk to customers we go out and talk to them.
A: I will say that this is the best meal I’ve had this month, and best looking meal I’ve had too. Some people might look at it and say ‘Oh I’d like it to look more elegant, or pretty’, but I don’t care about that.
G: It’s not meant to be artistic. I’m not trying to create art. I’m trying to feed people. We’re not high end. I want this to be more…I want it to be like Swatow man. I want to be here for freaking 20 years. That’s what I want. I don’t want to be a restaurant that’s all fancy and then 2-3 years down the road you’re dying down because people can’t afford your food. No. I don’t go to those kind of restaurants where you pay 50-60 dollars a plate, that’s not me. Steak is steak man, meat is meat. A lot of people are gonna disagree with me but that’s my thing. Edit that out.
S: We’ll defend that, we’ll stand by that.
G: Listen, everybody has their own style. I want this to be a homey place, where people keep coming. I don’t want you to come once and just try it. I want you to come here until you’re old. That’s what I want.
A: When you were starting out in the restaurant industry, was there any piece of advice that you remember that really helped you?
G: There’s a lot. You know, make your employees happy, make sure you feed them right. Don’t serve cold food when it’s meant to be hot, don’t go cheap on the ingredients that you’re putting on the food because people are gonna know. Try to get to know your clients and customers and be friends with them. Because you want them to keep coming back. Unfortunately I can’t do that when it’s busy. So I rely on the staff outside and sometimes there’s that language barrier, but they’re adjusting very well.
S: What would you say is the toughest part about owning a restaurant?
G: Finance. All of it. Management-wise, trying to budget, trying to see where the business is going. How many hours your employees are gonna work. Cuz I’m pretty much everything, and when you’re starting off, you’re doing everything, you’re trying to manage, and you’re trying to cook. I was lucky. I was lucky I was featured on BlogTo. If it wasn’t for them, the business wouldn’t be like this today. It’s because of them that we skyrocketed. Thankfully, a lot of people accepted the food that I serve here. And a lot of people are happy, trying it and they’re the ones that are telling their friends to go. I don’t even advertise. They do.
S: Did you grow up cooking?
G: I grew up cooking. I used to go with my uncle, in the Philippines. He used to be a cook, he used to cater. As a young kid, I used to ride with him. He’d make me butcher the pig or the chicken, slaughter them, and I guess…it stuck with me. Everything falls into place, at some point in your life. My thing is if you keep thinking about it, and you keep fighting for it, eventually it will happen without you knowing it. And when it’s there you just need to be ready for it. You just need be adjusting and adopting to whatever situation you get. Like right now we’re busy, but I started with 3 staff. There was three of us, and now I have two teams. One in the morning and one in the nighttime.
A: If someone were to open up a restaurant today, and they came to you for help, what piece of advice would you tell them?
G: If you’re passionate enough, do it. Cuz nobody can tell you if you’re going to be successful or not. It’s all you. If you’re doubting yourself already when you’re starting you’re failing. I can’t tell another person that they’re not going to be successful. It needs to come from you. You need to know that you’re going to be successful and you cannot be afraid to fail. Just do it. That’s what I say. If you’re dreaming it and you’re thinking about it all the time and you’re addicted to it, fuck it. Just go do it. Cuz you don’t know. I asked one of my Godfather’s when I opened up this business for advice, and I told him my business plan, and he goes, ‘The only way to find out is for you to do it.’ So that’s what I tell everybody. ‘The only way for you to find out is to do it.’ Cuz we can sit down and look at the papers. And we can calculate as much as we want, we can go through all the negatives and positives, but until you put that into action, you will never know if you will be successful or not.
S: Thank you for your time!
31 Howard Street