John Pastore served his time in some of Toronto’s finest establishments before deciding to open his own place. “I’ve done the tour, so to speak. I’ve taken the best of the experiences that I’ve had and brought them forward,” he says of his Hey Paesano Italian Kitchen.
John chose the location because of its proximity to King Secondary, and the kids have not only taken notice but started bringing their parents, too.
Hey Paesano is a no-nonsense fusion of clean, tasty food in a sleek setting. The only frills are in the flavour of the food and the great coffee, though he keeps the ingredients to a minimum. It’s a classy and unpretentious place with friendly smiles behind the counter.
When he was younger, John wanted to go into psychology. But, once he found his way into the kitchen he decided that was the place for him but, he still puts a lot of weight into figuring out what it takes to make people happy.
Just like the appeal of mamma or nonna’s kitchen, for John, it’s all about consistency. If you enjoy something at his place, he wants to make sure that the next time you come, it’s going to look and taste the way it did the first time.
That’s what John is trying to do with Hey Paesano: deliver a user experience that is streamlined to make people’s lives easier. “I’m trying to wow you with a pleasant experience; cooking for you fresh, simple food.”
“You eat with your eyes, first,” says John. For him, that includes the first thing you see when you walk into the restaurant. That was why he wanted to call the place after the common Italian greeting. “In English, it’s ‘eh, bro!’ when you know someone but, you can’t remember their name. For Italians, it’s the same thing. I don’t know who you are but, I wanna know who you are. It’s a phrase that acknowledges that we are just a moment in their day and we want that moment to be a good one,” explains John.
It’s true. When John and his staff greet you at Hey Paesano, you feel like you made their day by walking in. “If somebody can make you jump out of your skin for a moment and smile, especially if you were preoccupied with a rough day coming in… that moment I can make you smile that will stick with you longer than that pasta or that veal sandwich that you enjoyed. I want people to feel comfortable,” says John.
Everything John works for is rooted in consistency and a traditional approach, even though he’s not pretending to serve traditional recipes. There’s a Canadian spin on things. Vodka al penne may not be a classic Italian dish but, that doesn’t stop it from being a staple favourite with Hey Paesao regulars and newbies alike, and it comes with the perfect amount of sauce. “For me, an Italian always eats bread with pasta. We do garlic bread with every plate of pasta. I give just enough sauce and plates usually come back wiped clean.”
As hard as he tries to serve up perfection with every order, John is a realist. Sometimes, things happen. It’s refreshing to know that he’s open to feedback. “Eh, it’s not John hour over here,” he says. “If we did something wrong, come talk to me, let me fix it.” It’s not a regular occurrence but when it does happen people appreciate that they can have that rapport with their neighbourhood pizza-pasta-panini place.
In the short time that Hey Paesano has been in operation, John has managed to amass a steadily growing list of regulars. It just goes to show that this man knows what he’s doing in his Italian Kitchen.