In this latest instalment of our “Secrets of the Biz” series, we caught up with Alexandra Velocci and Chef Mike Bradshaw, co-owners of Chez’s Restaurant in Toronto, to find out how they keep their customers coming back for more and why standing out has been the key to their success.
Tell us about Chez’s. What’s the story behind the name?
Chez’s is derived from the slang use of the French word chez, meaning the place or spot. We want our customers to feel like they’re coming to our place, they’re coming home.
There are a lot of restaurant options in your neighbourhood. How do you differentiate yourselves from the competition?
Little Italy is bustling with great restaurants; however, we pride ourselves on going against the grain. At Chez’s, we take classic fare and turn it on its head with a rustic, comforting spin. For example, here, traditional bone marrow is elevated to two canoe-cut portions of bone marrow served with a bacon espresso marmalade, chimichurri, fleur de sel and grilled sourdough. Voted one of the best in the city, it’s a crowd favourite.
What are some of your other popular menu items?
In true comfort food fashion, our smoked beef cheek poutine is our top seller, followed closely by our mushroom linguini, which is beloved by both meat eaters and vegetarians. Our earl grey crème brûlée is a must try that is light, creamy and ultra-satisfying, making it the perfect way to end a meal. From start to finish, these dishes encompass what Chez’s is all about: heartwarming and inviting.
Are there plans to add any new items to the menu?
Our menu rotates seasonally while maintaining a few fan favourites. We love featuring local fare that complements the time of year. This season, we’re serving up more hearty dishes including a bacon and cheddar veal burger and a vegan coconut mushroom risotto that could win over even the biggest of carnivores.
Chez’s recently celebrated its one-year anniversary…congrats! What’s the most “out there” request you’ve received since you opened?
We had a small party come in that requested various dishes with each ingredient served separately on side plates so people could mix and match and create their own “fusions”. Even the alcohol…but hey, welcome to Toronto.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about building a business and a loyal following?
You get what you give. We’re so grateful to every one of our customers and return patrons. When you put your heart and soul into every single service, you inevitably receive so much gratitude in return. We work hard to provide everyone with the best version of Chez’s we possibly can, and the enjoyment we see in our customers is priceless.
Is there a new trend in the restaurant industry that you’re really excited about?
Intolerance-friendly fare. We both come from families that are big eaters but have a variety of food intolerances. We know how challenging it can be to enjoy an evening out that caters to all individuals and we want to eliminate that difficulty. Vegan, dairy free, gluten free, vegetarian, we have options for pretty much any intolerance…just ask!
Tell us a secret (or a secret ingredient). We promise we won’t tell.
It may sound cheesy, but cooking with love really makes all the difference. Chef Mike creates every dish and signs off on everything that goes out to our customers. All of our ingredients are selected with care and everything is made in house. That kind of attention to detail and dedication is something you can’t replicate.
If you’ve had Chez’s on your list for a while, January is the best time to try! They are one of 200 restaurants taking part in Toronto’s Winterlicious Food Festival. From January 25 – February 7th, you can get multi-course prix-fixed dinners for a fraction of the usual cost. Grab your favourite foodie and make a reso at Chez’s stat!