Dream Team: Restaurant Opus

Owner: Mario Amaro
Owner: Tony Amaro

Opus is a family-run restaurant and most evenings, brothers Mario and Tony are both in-house. Their clientele expects to see them. They learned their craft of hospitality at some of the city’s most popular restaurants, and they saw the joys and pitfalls. When Opus opened in 1992, many were surprised that the location was a few steps off the beaten path—no longer the case. Right from the start, the policy was carved in stone: excellence, perfection and a knowledge that there is only one way to do things—the best way. Their modern North American cuisine with a Mediterranean influence is peerless. I came in to Opus one afternoon as they were preparing for a private dinner for a client who had requested blue and white flowers along the table. Tony held up a white napkin to the blossoms and announced that they were pink, and stated unequivocally that the other flowers were purple. They were whisked away to be replaced with exactly what the client had ordered: blue and white flowers. This restaurant succeeds on respect, trust and a common goal to please the client.

Sara Waxman: When you were growing up, Mario, as the older brother you had the last word in everything. How has that changed so that you now operate one of the best restaurants in the country?

Mario Amaro: I believe that we each do what we think we do best and leave it with the other guy to do the rest.

Tony Amaro: That’s correct. We do whatever our strengths are.

SW: You both know food, and you both know wine. Is there a final decision maker?

MA: I think we just go with the flow of the other person.

TA: We just let things be. On the big decisions, there’s never really a lot of discussion. But, I do all the traveling for wine, which I have done since the beginning. Through my travels there’s always a moment to see another winery. I’m going to Spain and I’m sure I’ll go to a winery just because I’m there.

SW: You have a very extensive wine cellar.

TA: At the moment, it is the largest wine list in the country. We are listed in Wine Spectator with the Grand Award. There are 72 in the world. And we’re actually really high up in those standings, worldwide.

SW: Neither of you are the chef here, what input do you have in the menu?

TA: We have input—dictated by the client. And that filters right down to chef Jason Cox. Jason brings his expertise and his creation to the table. And then we all sit together and we figure out if it works for our client, which is important. This restaurant has always been and always will be about the client. Anyone who works with us, joins us in our business, has the same passion.

MA: We just work together, we decide, and we just do what is right for our clients.

TA: We all work together. We look at [the menu], what will work for the season, we all contribute, Jason’s already created the menu, we sit down together and figure out what’s going to be best for the next few months.

SW: I see Opus as a triumvirate that works. It’s rare that, for so long, the three of you have co-operated so well. I think it’s the attitude.

TA: Jason is a very chilled-out chef. During the course of a very busy evening he never loses his cool. The busier it gets, the quieter he gets, the music gets turned off, and we all work together. Our kitchen is the symphony. Our waiters respect our kitchen. There is an aura downstairs that is productive. And anyone who is on his team is all about getting the job done and making sure our client is happy. On a busy evening, yet the kitchen is very calm. There’s no screaming, there’s no yelling, barely any talking, and if there is, it’s very low key. The focus is the client—it’s not about the little battle between waiters, like I’ve seen before. And when we hire people we tell them, that’s how it works. It is suggested from day one that that is how the program is always going to be.

SW: You have had the same staff for a long time.

TA: In the kitchen, we still have one of the originals. And Jason’s been with us for 13 years, from the beginning. Two of our bus boys have been here for 14 years. The bus boys are crucial.

MA: And a couple of waiters have been here since day one. And yes, our bus boys are very important to us. Everybody respects everybody else. Once they are hired they know that.

Opus, 37 Prince Arthur Ave., Toronto

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