Before there was talk of Momofuku and Café Boulud (both soon to be opened), the original celebrity chef looked on Toronto with big eyes, salivating over the prospect of expanding his empire in Hogtown. Back in the mid-noughties, Wolfgang Puck was one of the world’s most recognizable chefs. Famed for catering the gala parties of the rich and famous, the colourful Austrian kitchen maestro (with an easily impersonated accent) was known for his Asian- and Italian-inspired California cuisine, accessible cookbooks, supermarket foods, cookware lines, and the dozens of high-end, mid-range, and take-out restaurants that bore his name across the U.S.
In September 2003, Puck’s first Canadian outpost, The Wolfgang Puck Café, opened at an entertainment compound at QEW and Winston Churchill, in Oakville of all places (apparently the “demographics” were right). If all was successful, there were plans to put subsequent restaurants in Toronto (the yet-to-be-built Yonge-Dundas Square retail complex was then rumoured as a potential location), as well as the rest of the country.
Problem was, the Oakville restaurant wasn’t successful. It closed in no time (not surprisingly, the publicist cited the “bad location” as the reason), and it was another two years until a new Puck foray north of the border (in 2005 a Wolfgang Puck Grand Café opened in Niagara Falls and a Wolfgang Puck Express opened at Toronto’s Pearson Airport). In spring 2008 there was much talk of a Wolfgang Puck Toronto Bistro opening at Yonge and Sheppard, but apart from a sign posted on the window for over a year, nothing ever materialized.
All of this, however, hasn’t stopped the man himself from trying to open a personal outpost here (to clarify, many of the bistros and cafés are licensed franchises, whereas Puck often oversees his fine-dining spots). In March 2009, the chef talked about wanting to bring a Spago to Toronto’s Four Seasons, reflecting on the franchise failures by telling The Star’s Susan Sampson that “Toronto is a very good food city, but if I had to do it again, I would do it myself.” Indeed, a decade ago his vision of Toronto as a rising culinary centre was not misguided, so don’t be surprised if you hear talk of a Wolfgang Puck expansion here in the future.—Jacob Rutka
Photo: Keith Beaty/Toronto Star