Identifiable by its bright red doors on Spadina Avenue, Daddyo’s Pastas & Salads is a small restaurant that has fed the U of T community since 2007. After Daddyo’s was closed for two weeks, its co-owner and operator, Jeffrey Markus, took to social media to announce the news that the restaurant would be closing its doors permanently after his partner and chef decided to step down. The comments on his post were filled with U of T students and alumni thanking Markus and his business for years of memories and quality food.

Markus sat down with The Varsity to discuss Daddyo’s impactful history in Toronto and how the popular restaurant earned its reputation. 

Humble beginnings

Markus has a wealth of experience in the hospitality industry and worked in other establishments in Toronto and Ajax before deciding to open Daddyo’s, his third pasta restaurant. After selling the previous establishment, he was approached by a dishwasher from another restaurant with whom he cofounded Daddyo’s.

The pair relied on little marketing and focused on targeting a niche market by serving pasta that could be served and eaten like fast food without sacrificing quality taste. The restaurant was also set up with an open kitchen layout that created an inviting atmosphere for customers.

Daddyo’s competitive advantage

Markus credited the long-running success of Daddyo’s to the taste of the food they served. He explained that when he first entered the hospitality industry he didn’t fully appreciate the importance of high quality and delicious food. He credited his change of heart to his original partner who taught him the value of food.

“The thing that set us apart was the flavors and the uniqueness of our freshly cooked food,” Markus said. The location of the restaurant — near U of T in the heart of downtown Toronto —  coupled with its delicious menu contributed to Daddyo’s success.

Navigating unprecedented times

The pandemic presented challenges to small businesses across the globe. Even as the province relaxes COVID-19 restrictions, many businesses are still being impacted by the pandemic and have had to make major changes in how they operate.

Markus explained that the pandemic presented barriers and challenges that the restaurant had never faced before, and they had to adapt accordingly. For example, the manufacturer that Daddyo’s used stopped selling green lasagna noodles, which were a big part of the restaurant’s menu.

Markus was also concerned because of his underlying health issues and the struggle of ensuring that a consistent cash flow was available to support his staff, even if it meant lower profit levels than before. “I had to figure out a format that we could operate at to break even until things are better,” Markus explained.

Overall, Markus expressed pride in how Daddyo’s persevered and explained that financial issues were not the main driver behind the restaurant’s closing. “I’m very proud of the way I navigated my business through the pandemic,” he said.

Good food and good times

The Varsity spoke to two members of the U of T women’s track team, Anesi Anyia and Brittany Walsh, who enjoyed dining at Daddyo’s during track meets, for special events, and when bringing in new recruits. They shed light into what the restaurant has meant to the U of T community.

They described the restaurant as “homey” and “comforting” while recalling the tasty pasta and breads. “I felt like I could sit there for hours upon hours,” said Anyia.

Walsh and Anyia also commented on how Markus made the atmosphere of the restaurant feel welcoming and was always very sociable. Daddyo’s brought members of the U of T community together. Walsh thinks that the restaurant’s absence will leave a “hole” in that community.

Markus said that he will always look back fondly on the memories he made and the people he met while working at Daddyo’s. “I never really expected to develop the kind of personal relationships that I did, with so many people, from students, to coaches, to professors, and secretaries,” he said.