Almost all of us had parents who told us we were special growing up. But when we got to be full-fledged grownups it came as a bit of a surprise that there are just a handful of people who have a little extra spark that makes others gravitate towards them. Matthew Davis is one of those sparkling gems. As the General Manager of Joso’s Restaurant, the beloved family-run seafood restaurant in Yorkville (yes, the one Drake loves, for all you pop culture enthusiasts), he definitely has a job that puts his “people person” skills to good use. Spend just a few minutes with the native Australian and you’ll be so engaged in conversation that you’ll forget you haven’t met Davis before and that he isn’t some long lost best friend from childhood… you know… back when we all thought we had those special sparks our parents promised us. We caught up with the always delightful Davis to find out more about his life in Toronto, most memorable culinary experiences, and the secret family recipe at Joso’s that is so protected, you won’t believe how they keep it from getting out…
Tell us a bit about yourself. What should people know?
I am an Australian guy who has fallen in love with Toronto and Canada! After many attempts at moving home, I keep on getting sucked right back in! I have worked in the event management and hospitality industries for a decade now and still find that I learn new things every day. I currently hold the position of General Manager of Joso’s Restaurant (that’s right, the one that Drake loves!). I am a busy guy and I tend to schedule my life to the minute… If I am not at work, I can be found at CrossFit, a Bikram class, or brunch somewhere in the West End.
What are some of the biggest challenges and rewards when it comes to being in the restaurant business?
Like any job, unforeseen issues arise every day – a broken down dishwasher, staffing problems, late deliveries, etc. Anything and everything can and will go wrong. The biggest challenge is making sure none of this is noticed by the guests. Like a theatrical show, all of the inner workings go on backstage whilst the guests are treated to the spectacle and beauty of the production. Achieving this daily and being proud of the performance is the greatest reward of all.
What makes Joso’s Restaurant so special?
Joso’s is no ordinary restaurant; it has been in operation here in Toronto serving the same menu of Dalmatian seafood for 37 years and counting. This alone makes it remarkable. It’s uniqueness, however, lies in its personality. Part restauarant, part art gallery, and part bohemian lounge… You never know who or what you might be sitting next to.
What’s your favourite item on the menu?
My favourite menu item is without a doubt the Calamari Alla Kornati. Lightly floured rings of tender calamari deep fried in Canola oil and served with our signature salsa – it’s the best I have tried anywhere in the world. Though I have to give an honourable mention to our Nero sauce, a secret family recipe which has been handed down through the generations. The owner Leo comes in to the restaurant at 1am to make it so as to protect the secret. Served in our Siciliana pasta and Risotto Nero, it is like nothing else I have ever tasted.
What are three things you can’t live without?
I can’t live without the ocean. I get back to the beach in Sydney once a year for my fix.
I would be lost without Milo, an Australian chocolate malt powder that you mix with milk.
My friends and family form the backbone of my life, which would be meaningless without them.
What restaurants other than Joso’s have you visited that blew your mind?
La Closerie des Lilas in Paris, France. A regular hang for Hemingway, Picasso and Samuel Beckett back in the day, this place exudes old world glamour and is just down the road from the Luxembourg Palace in Montparnasse.
Pier in Rose Bay, Sydney, Australia. Now closed, this restaurant was perched atop a pier on Sydney Harbour and headed up by the iconic Greg Doyle. It embodied Sydney to me – clean lines, spectacular views, delicious seafood and a fabulous ambiance.
Guu Izakaya in Toronto, Canada. This has long been my go-to restaurant in Toronto for a guaranteed good time. The room is fantastic, the food is simple yet exotic, and I think this is the only place in Canada where if you open the front door during the winter (causing a frigid blast of air to enter the dining room) the staff still cheer for your arrival!
Let’s get social for a mo’. How can people stay up-to-date with your busy life?
I have my phases with social media, though I still have a slew of accounts: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And then, of course, Josos.com.