Owner: Sam Genkov
Chef: Bruce Woods
One evening, while I was enjoying a late dinner at Bravi, Sam Genkov’s cozy Italian restaurant, he stopped by to share some exciting news. He had acquired a large space in a downtown office tower and wanted to introduce me to his new chef and partner, Bruce Woods, a Centro alumnus. How did these two men meet and gain the confidence in each other to form a committed partnership? The best way possible: through a mutual friend who was aware of their passions for excellence in food and wine. The two spent the summer planning, discussing the direction and ambience of the restaurant, the wine program, and the menu and, when Modus opened in 2011, everything fell into place. The modern, classic Italian cuisine that is Woods’ trademark, and Genkov’s easygoing charm has made Modus a calm and delicious oasis in the downtown core.
Sara Waxman: Your roles as a team are clearly defined and yet you work closely together. Where is the overlap? What is your job and what is your job? Sam?
Sam Genkov: (laughs) We work together, but I do the wine program, guest service, PR for the restaurant, customer satisfaction, menus…
SW: You do the menus together?
Bruce Woods: Yes and we speak a lot about the direction.
SG: Yes, we make a plan on what direction we want to go in. At that point, Bruce takes over and does all the final touches, he presents the menu, and both of us taste the menu. We make adjustments as needed and off we go, we have a menu.
BW: My role comes back to guest satisfaction. Sam looks after the front and the back on some days, and I’m between the two. My role is obviously creating the menus, and making sure each dish that goes out is up to the standards of what our clientele expect. We spent a long time last summer before we opened to decide what the menu direction was. Right from the start we saw eye to eye on a lot of things. We made some changes once we opened, but most of it was pretty close to what we expected. We had a pretty good idea of what our clientele was looking for.
SW: You both have families. How do you work the time off so that one of you is always here?
SG: We have our schedules. And if he goes on vacation I take over the restaurant and if I go on vacation he takes over the restaurant…
SW: When you hire staff what is the attitude that you impress upon them in order for them to work well with you and your team?
BW: The people I hire either come highly recommended or they are people who I’ve worked with, and are already familiar with my standards. While this is a new restaurant with a new concept, my standards have not changed. And we do lunch and dinner, Monday to Friday. There are a lot of shifts to cover. And we all do the tasting of the menu; all the cooks are here, the servers, Sam and myself. It’s important that the front of the house know the food. We expect them to understand that the customer is first. So, if we have it in house, we are going to do it for you.
SG: The people I hire for the front of the house have a very strong presence. The number one thing for me is that they know the food, know how it’s served, and how we do it. It’s easy enough to just recite the menu, but if they don’t have the actual understanding of it, that’s no good to me. I need them to know how to talk to our clients and know all the ingredients and tastes of the food on the menu. Every third Saturday, we organize the tasting for the staff, on the house. So, we cook, we show the ingredients, and all the little details that are valid that everyone should know. We need the front of the house to know what the back of the house is doing. And we also want the back of the house to know what it takes to serve a client. Every employee here has to know everyone’s job.
SW: Everyone’s on diets. So, someone will choose a dish from the menu and say ‘That really looks good but I can’t have this and I can’t have that.’ Can you make a substitution?
BW: That’s where it comes back to the server having an understanding, that’s where the knowledge comes in. The waiter does not fumble at the table and can answer without having to come back and ask the kitchen about it.
SW: You have each been in the business more than 20 years. So, here you are now, in a culinary marriage and you’re getting along pretty well.
SG: We are. A big part of the whole thing is that we have the same understanding of food, service and our employees. And we know the customers. We have a common goal, which is the key to our successful partnership.
Modus, 145 King St. W., Toronto