Restaurant Mogul — Janet Zuccarini

Janet Zuccarini has been in the restaurant business since 1996, opening up several successful restaurants. She sits down with City Life to tell us about her experiences as a businesswoman and restaurateur.

Owning and running a restaurant is no easy feat: creating your vision, picking a location, choosing a menu, hiring employees, maintaining a clientele. Those are all required when you open one restaurant — now imagine doing that seven more times. Crazy? Janet Zuccarini doesn’t think so.

“I need challenge in my life. I suffer from getting bored, and so I need to keep growing and keep doing different things,” Zuccarini tells us. “That’s why I can’t just keep doing the same thing. Every project for me is a new challenge.”

This drive has led her to create her own restaurant group, Gusto 54, which comprises Italian, Thai and Jamaican restaurants in Toronto and Los Angeles. With all of that on her plate, it’s hard to imagine that getting bored would even be a possibility.

The mastery of the restaurant business is even more impressive, as Zuccarini has done it all by herself – a woman in a traditionally male dominated business. And while her achievement may sound daunting to us, for Zuccarini it was never like that. Though there was a time in her life when she was working 17 hours a day, she looks back at that time fondly. All of those moments were simply a part of creating the life she’d always dreamed of.

Zuccarini attributes her success to her entrepreneurial spirit, which she thanks her father for. Her father left his family farm in Italy to come to Canada, where he achieved remarkable success. In fact, he was the one who brought the first espresso machine into Canada and, in essence, created coffee culture. He hoped his daughter would follow in his footsteps and join the company he created, but instead, she broke out of the mould, just as he did, and entered the restaurant business. “He taught me these really invaluable lessons about work ethic and appreciation for what a dollar is, what a dollar means, you know, that it’s hard-earned,” she says.

She has been able to take those lessons and implement them in her own life. Not only has she mastered the restaurant market in Toronto, but she has even also expanded into the United States with her Los Angeles-based restaurant, Felix. With accolades like Esquire magazine’s No. 1 New Restaurant in the United States and L.A. Magazine’s No. 1 Restaurant in L.A. in 2017, it is clear that Zuccarini has mastered her trade.

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With all of the success she’s garnered, Zuccarini has even been able to reach out and help those in the communities around her restaurants. “It’s a lot of causes for women and women’s shelters and feeding kids,” she says, “and then we have this mini-chef program, which I’m incredibly, incredibly proud of, where we’ve created a whole curriculum [to] partner with schools, and we bring children in and teach them about nutrition and cooking.”

Zuccarini is always looking for new challenges — in fact, she’s even been a resident judge on Top Chef Canada for the past two seasons. “It’s what I should be doing, it’s what I do every day, you know. I’m a judge, I go out and I eat in restaurants, and in my head I’m judging it, so it feels like a natural extension of what I do, but you know, very different,” she says. “It’s very different to be on TV. I love it.”

It’s hard to imagine that anyone with this much on their plate would have any downtime, but Zuccarini knows how to maintain a balanced lifestyle. In her free time she enjoys practising yoga and meditation, she plays tennis almost every day and she tries to spend as much time as possible with the people she loves.

When it comes to the future, Zuccarini still has dreams and aspirations. “I’m always looking to do better,” she tells us. She is always on the lookout for new spaces and keeps her mind open to new ideas. She even frequents her own restaurants, to make sure they are always providing customers with the best experience possible.

When asked what drives her to be successful, she says: “It’s passion, it’s connecting, it’s developing people.” Janet Zuccarini has found her passion and followed it throughout her life. She is a perfect example of what you can achieve if you put your mind and heart into what you love.

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Victoria Scott

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