In our new blog series we hear from industry players; chefs, owners, pizzaiolos, bartenders and bakers, in their own words. We take a look at the business from an insider’s perspective to showcase the many ways in which restaurants and bars shape our world. Frank and Shawn are the couple behind FK, a fine dining restaurant that has been a mainstay in the city for over a decade.
In an ever-changing restaurant town like Toronto we can get obsessed with places that are hyped and new. A thirteen year old spot like FK can get taken for granted, but for those who know it, it’s always been one of the city’s best. So to see it included in the 2023 Michelin list was really wonderful. The designations, stars included, will be announced on Sept.27th. Until then, here’s Shawn and Frank, in their own words, about what it’s like to hear from Michelin after a lifetime in F&B.
all interviews have been condensed and edited
Co-Owner/GM – FK
Frank and I met at a French bistro in Rosedale 20 years ago and got married within the first year. He became the Exec Chef at Centro and I was the GM at the Platinum Club at the ACC (now Scotiabank Centre). We really wanted to open our own place, and Frank wanted his own kitchen, hence the name Frank’s Kitchen.
We opened Frank’s Kitchen in 2010 on College and we’ve been on St Clair for six as FK. So 13 years in total. With this location we didn’t have a partner or a financial backer so I wrote a business plan and was able to secure a small business loan and then had the opportunity to do the full design. I run the business and all that goes with that and am avidly involved in the day-to-day operations. I am at the door nightly and on the floor as Maitre d. I wear many hats, but my favourite is definitely running FOH. Just as Frank is all things kitchen, I’m all things service and have a definite philosophy surrounding it. The cocktail list is a passion of mine, and Frank is totally responsible for the wine list. He’s a rarity in being both a Chef and a Sommelier with an equal passion for both the culinary world and the world of wine. The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence was due to his extraordinary dedication to building a spectacular list.
As for Michelin? We didn’t think it would ever come here. We never really thought that we would even be on their radar, just because we’ve been around for over a decade, so when I got the email I thought it was spam. I literally laughed out loud. I almost deleted it! But then I looked more closely and realized it was legit. Don’t get me wrong, we do great work and we’ve never settled. We get better with every season and every single menu. We’re constantly striving.
I don’t know how they scope places, but to be noticed in a city of thousands of restaurants doing wonderful food, and be included on such a short list? It’s amazing.
Look, we don’t have children, our family is our restaurant. Our front of house crew has been with us since we opened. They’ve been through so much with us. When we told them this Michelin news, they were so excited. We were all jumping up and down! This kind of thing gives us life and as we all know, restaurant life can be short. It’s a tough industry for longevity. To make the cut and be in the guide is very impactful. It’s like the Olympics or the Oscars, not everybody wins, but for us to be in the running is a huge deal, it’s life changing.
Co-Owner/Chef – FK
I was Executive Chef at Centro and I felt I had reached as high as I could in this city as a hired chef. There was nowhere else to go but to become a chef-owner. At that time it felt like a million dollar club, like if you didn’t have a high end place you couldn’t be a restaurateur. We were part of that new wave of restaurants that were owner-operated – Black Hoof, Campagnolo, Acadia – places with a lot of heart and soul.
We opened up literally rubbing our last two dollars together. We didn’t have a budget for design, we spent our money on good wine and nice plates. We had quality glassware, folded linens, and incredible ingredients. But the space? It was humble, it was what we could afford. Some of our customers, who were very high end, they showed up and were like “where’s your valet?” And we were like, uh, we don’t even have a dishwasher.
We were inspired by a restaurant in France called Le Chateaubriand. These two guys who came from Michelin 3 stars, they opened with scaffolding still in place and walls half painted, but with Alain Ducasse-style food. It was very middle finger up. They left it as rough and unfinished as possible, not looking like a Louis 14th castle, it was about the food and the heart. They inspired us and really showed Shawn and I that we could change the way things were done.
When we opened we were shocked and surprised with all the accolades that came. I didn’t think it would be top ten across the board. As a new restaurant you think to yourself that you might get a mention because you’re new, but top tens? We weren’t competing with the million dollar club, we didn’t think we belonged to that category, we were just doing our thing. That’s when this city saw a real changing of the guard.
I never thought it was possible in my lifetime, in my career, that I would ever see Michelin in Toronto. It’s a shock to me. Here I am in my twentieth year in this industry, I can tell you from all the levels, from apprenticing abroad to executive chef in a hotel, to chef/owner, I never ever thought we would have Michelin.
To put it in perspective, I went to France to learn cooking and I brought that culture back here. I went to New York and worked in Michelin places to learn that culture and bring it back here. I went to Italy, same. Now that Michelin is here, we can be the exporter of the culture. For the first time in my career we will have a legitimate voice and we will be exporting it out, instead of importing it. Michelin gives us steady ground to stand on. We’re not really going to see the impact for another five to ten years, but it is going to be significant. Look at Mexico and Copehnhagen and what it has meant to their restaurant scenes. Look at the export of thoughts and ideas around their food and culture that has spread to the rest of the world.
The reason we opened in the first place is because I felt like I was stuck. Now, with Michelin, it gives us a new level to strive for. It validates what we’ve been doing but also gives us new goals for the future and allows us to push forward.
A Michelin gala in the city of Toronto, it’s a very strange thing, and for me to be part of it as a chef, that’s totally surreal. I feel nothing but jubilation.
CHI Real Estate is a commercial brokerage focused on F&B. Everyone who works here comes from the industry. We’re former chefs, owners, pizzaiolos, baristas and bartenders, and we know restaurants from the inside out.
If you are interested in opening a restaurant, or selling one, CHI Real Estate can help. Get in touch with our team today.