Janet Zuccarini, founder of Gusto 54 Global Restaurant Group, which includes Toronto’s popular restaurants Gusto 101, PAI, Kiin, Trattoria Nervosa, and Chubby’s, shared her journey as the sole owner of Gusto 54 Group, her favourite restaurants in Toronto, and a piece of advice she would give to those who are considering starting their own business!
“I had to put money in my business, so I sold a condo
that I purchased in my 20’s and moved back in with my parents. When you start your own business, you not only have to
wear multiple hats, but you need to be willing to
make any and all sacrifices necessary to succeed.”
Can you tell us about your journey as the founder of Gusto 54 Global Restaurant Group?
I lived in Rome for 7 years where I completed my undergrad as well as my MBA. I fell in love with cooking, wholesome products, and produce while living there. In the end, I married my two passions - that of food and business.
To make a long story short, I flew back to Toronto for a friend’s wedding and while in Yorkville getting my hair done, I met two partners who were set to open a new Italian restaurant in the neighbourhood. They asked me to be a partner on the spot and I thought they were joking, but two weeks later I was in the restaurant biz. I had to put money in, so I sold a condo that I purchased in my 20’s and moved back in with my parents. When you start your own business, you not only have to wear multiple hats, but you need to be willing to make any and all sacrifices necessary to succeed.
"I’m not afraid to place women in
high-powered, influential positions."
Why is female empowerment so dear to your heart?
Because I’m a woman operating in a traditionally male-dominated space I’ve always felt strongly about leveling out the playing field, not only within my own industry but throughout the world at large. Although we’re an equal opportunity employer through and through, my restaurant group just so happens to be primarily run by a team of incredibly passionate and talented women. Our President, Chief Culture Officer, Marketing & Communications Manager, and Catering & Events Manager are all women, but I didn’t put them in these positions just because they’re women – they are simply the best people for the job. In short, I’m not afraid to place women in high-powered, influential positions.
What advice would you give to those readers who are interested in starting a company?
Have a solid business plan; nothing too complicated, but get the basics down. I usually share the following quote by Sabeer Bhatia (cofounder of Hotmail) with people who reach out to me for advice on starting a business:
“It doesn’t have to be a cookie-cutter business plan with glossy pages and lots of information. Essentially it’s a plan that says what the company is going to do, what problem it is going to solve, how big the market is, what the sources of revenue for the company are, what your exit strategy is for your investors, what amount of money is required, how you are going to market it, what kind of people you need, what the technology risks are, marketing risks, execution risks. Those are the fundamentals of what goes into a business plan, and many people have it in their heads but don’t write it down.”
What does your typical day look like?
I’m an early riser so I usually wake up at 7AM, immediately turn on my espresso machine and make a strong double espresso that I have with a high-fat breakfast (I’m currently eating a ketogenic diet). I like to use the quiet time in the morning to sit down and read through my emails for about an hour or so. When I’ve caught up on my correspondence, I’ll either go play tennis for about 90 minutes or do a workout in my home gym.
More often than not I combine lunches with meetings at one of my restaurants, which usually means sitting down with Gusto 54’s President, Juanita Dickson and our Chief Operating Officer, Demetrio Bianco, or I’ll line up a business meeting which usually has to do with vetting new opportunities.
I typically book meetings at 2PM on most days and, depending on what I’m working on, they may be with anyone from my architects to interior designers or real estate agents. Right now, I’m working on scouting locations in New York for Felix and two new concepts that I want to scale globally.
I like to use evenings as opportunities to scope out new restaurants in the city with family or friends, or to host a dinner party at my house. I’m usually in bed by 11PM, and spend some time reading The New York Times, Globe and Mail, L.A. Times or a good book!
As if she's not impressive enough, Janet is also a resident judge for Top Chef Canada!
Where's your favourite place to eat in Toronto?
I absolutely love anything by Patrick Kriss - Alo, Aloette; Grant Van Gameren’s Bar Raval and his latest concept, Quetzal; Craig Harding’s La Palma and Rob Gentile’s Bar Buca. I also really enjoy Bacchanal, Canis and Café Can Can.
If I’m feeling like more of an old-school vibe, then I’ll head to Joso’s, Edulis or Scaramouche.
What morning routines or evening rituals do you have to keep you stay balanced?
Being active every morning right after breakfast (tennis, yoga or weights); Spending quality time with family and friends; Meditating daily in the morning or before going to bed; Always sitting down to a solid breakfast, lunch, and dinner - you can take the girl out of Italy but you can’t take Italy out of the girl!
What's your one skin care product you can't live without?
I swear by “The Cream” by Augustinus Bader.
Interview conducted by Yuri Hirama