We asked 5 questions to lawyer and restauranteur Victoria Bazan, owner of Honest Weight.
You have quite the unusual background for a restaurateur. Can you tell us what appealed to you in the restaurant industry?
I was born in Belgium but grew up in Argentina. My fondest childhood memories are of being at my grandparents' house surrounded by their vineyards, their orchards and their small canning factory where I could play bottling tomato sauce and, occasionally, help make morcilla, chorizos and head cheese. It was paradise. My family came to Canada in 1976 and we finally settled in Ottawa in 1980. For many years I was involved in dance, mainly ballet and modern dance but when I hit 20 I realized that a career as a professional dancer was not in the cards for me. I worked in various restaurants and bars in Ottawa during undergrad and then law school. I’ve had a ridiculously fortunate career in law practicing in the area of international trade but I always had this incurable itch to do something more, something different and my thoughts always turned to food and wine, recalling my youth and evenings filled with paella over a wood fire, parrilladas and wine out of a demijohn. When the opportunity to open Honest Weight came up it just felt right.
Can you describe Honest Weight’s mission?
Honest Weight is my home and I am immensely proud that I have contributed to the growth of the Junction, the neighbourhood in which my husband and I have lived in for 17 years. Owning a restaurant here makes me feel much more a part of this community. We source seafood responsibly, have amazing Chefs, have a carefully curated retail case, have a cozy room, pay people well, support individuals who face exceptional challenges, have a few laughs along the way. That’s mission enough for me, at least for now. I can certainly see Honest Weight graduating to the next level in the next year or so.
Your restaurant partner, John Bil, was probably one of the most beloved person in the Canadian restaurant industry. What do you think his legacy will be for cooks and restauranteurs in the country?
Without a doubt John’s greatest skill was hospitality and making people feel welcome. Although John never cooked at Honest Weight I think all cooks and restauranteurs could honour his memory by remembering the importance of genuinely embracing every customer that walks in the door.
What do you think of the restaurant industry in Toronto? Are there city-specific advantages? Challenges?
Growth in the Toronto restaurant industry has skyrocketed in the last few years. We have access to all types of cuisines, in large part due to the city’s multiculturalism and to a generation of restauranteurs who have ventured into the industry without financial backing. Looking ahead I think there are some challenges for the industry, not just in Toronto. Over the last couple of years we have seen food deflation in grocery stores and, at the same time, increasing restaurant prices. People are naturally concerned about the cost of eating out but owners continue to struggle to turn a meagre profit in the face of increasing labour and regulatory costs. Disposable income is shrinking, household debt is high and mortgage rates are on the rise. Toronto is very much a city of neighbourhoods and I remind myself of this constantly when I think about the future of Honest Weight.
Can you tell us a favourite restaurant, café and bar in Toronto?
I adore the food that Daniel Usher makes at The 47 on Bloor Street - I love that I can have gnocchi (the best in town, in my opinion), chicken wings and steak tartare all from the same menu! It’s crazy fun and always delicious. One of my favourite cafes is El Almacen on Queen Street — best empanadas in Toronto and one of the few places to sip on mate for hours! The Hole in the Wall here in the Junction is our local pub and has been a favourite for years — small and cozy with great live music.