Chef Anthony Rose just opened Rose & Sons Swan and is about to open a bar on Dupont. The restauranteur has a passion and drive that would exhaust most people in five minutes. We sat down with him to find out the scoop on the new spot and what’s next for the engaging, entertaining, energetic chef and restauranteur.
Q. Why did you want to own the Swan?
A. I was in Mexico on a yoga retreat with my business partner Rob Wilder. He was very specific there was to be no work at all. But I kept sneaking away to check my phone. I saw on social media that Swan had closed doors. This is horrible. Very 'f--- you' to get that space, so I started calling Rob – I was totally upset. I wasn't zenned out and doing yoga - I had to find out.
Adam Colquhoun of Oyster Boy (just a few doors west) knew the original owner and put me in touch with the landlord. Then I had a spectacular yoga trip! I literally got off the plane and come here. I’m a horrible father - didn't even see son. I was of 30 who had already looked. Some had offered money up front for the building. All I could think was 'I want it bad.' They did due diligence for a day and mutual people told me, yeah, you got it. Holy s—t. All I know was 'I have to have it.' I didn't know what I was going to do with it.
The Swan was here 40 years. It’s the people and the history. It’s the perfect trifecta – it’s on Queen Street with a patio that overlooks Trinity Bellwoods Park, it’s got the old bones of a long-standing restaurant and it’s near good restaurants. Back then, there was nothing.
Q. Why a California cuisine?
A. In everything we do, the space dictates what we do. Anne-Marie Power, who’s a good friend from San Francisco when I was there five years ago, suggested it. I lived there at the beginning – it’s how I started my career. I had cooked there for 5 years and then in New York with Jonathan Waxman (the now-closed Washington Park).
California cuisine has to be apropos. Nothing we had done yet had dictated California cuisine. It’s all about local, good stuff. We use as much local as possible.
(Editor’s note: If you need evidence of the Cali vibe outside of the food, just look to the awesome surfboard, next to the counter.)
Q. How much have you changed the Swan’s interior?
A. Rose and Sons Swan is almost exactly as the original. We didn't want to change a thing. We did have to do some up keep – cleaning, refinishing. We redid everything. It’s mostly the same. A little different – not better, just different.
When the Swan was around, it was back when Toronto was dry, so the bartenders had to figure out how to make the back bar (back of the counter area) work. When I went to renew license, they asked if I still carried cigarettes and other tobacco products. I asked about marijuana.
(Above the counter there’s an old menu.) It’s from Smash Salvage. A couple of people have tried to order off of it.
There’s a patio for the first time. It seats around 16. Inside it’s around 30-40.
Music is very important to me. It’s the rockstar. Arts & Crafts Productions is a local record company that got me started of our record collection. Everything is only on vinyl.
The flash art pieces on the wall were done by 5 local graffiti artists. A couple more are on their way as well.
We’re using old dishes – metal plates, wooden bowls - most are 50 years old. There are even ones from Swiss Chalet Quebec.
Q. How would you describe the menu?
A. I made a conscious effort to create a good simple restaurant where the food is approachable. We're not the cheapest, we’re not most expensive, but the quality is always there. There are a lot of vegetables. It’s paleo-friendly as I follow a paleo diet/lifestyle. It’s a lot of vegetables, protein, a lot of nuts and such. I’ve been on it for a year-and-a-half now. Before my diet was fat and junk heavy.
Q. How do you do it – all of these restaurants?
A. Everything we do is driven my past, by my heart. It really just comes from the heart and getting people involved. Someone said – 'All I can ever do is light this fire and your people tend to the fire and keep it going.' People ask me all the time, 'If you’re not there, who's cooking?' I tell them, 'The same people when I'm there.'
We make all menus and do recipe testing together. By mid-month, it's up to Sonia’s ideas (Chef Sonia Marwick, former sous chef at Fat Pasha) and Bethann McLaren, our bartender. It's theirs to run.
I love what I do. Jen Bubleit (General Manager) and Sonia are the most formidable people I have ever worked with. This was the easiest restaurant opening so far because of them. Good people want responsibility. They treat it as ownership.
We have very low turnover at all of our restaurants. We have 28 seats at Rose & Sons versus the usual 40-50 seats elsewhere. We are not the richest but we treat our staff like gold. We’re very family run and oriented. There’s a lot of freedom within the organization. You can start as a dishwasher, then become a busser, then a cook, then a chef. We’re lucky now - we can move people around.
We have people who like and respect people. Tati Rodrigues has been with us over a year now. I knew him back when I used to work at The Drake Hotel. He worked at Fat Pasha and is now the sous there. Kevin (last name) loves him so much, so I asked,'Can Sonia have Tati?' He said no. I said, 'Can we try it?' He’s still working on it.
I know that to some people I’m known as someone who's grown too quickly. But this snowball/Empire happened very organically:
Rose & Sons had a big beautiful backyard, so Big Crow was born. The owner of the Indian Rice Factory came to me to take it over. So Fat Pasha came, with Schmaltz Appetizing out back. Swan really came after of that. Bar Begonia (the soon to come French bar) was already signed sealed and delivered and again, they came to us.
How I do it? By giving responsibility to best f---ing people to run the place. And I talk to therapist. Everyone should be in therapy.
A lot of people smarter than me have opened restaurants. I just try and offer good food at a good price and amazing atmosphere.
Q. What’s next, Chef?
A. I just signed a book deal with Random House to be done in 2016. Bar Begonia, and who knows what else!
Check out our Facebook page for more pictures.
Rose & Sons Swan is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on weekdays, with brunch and dinner available on weekends.