Of all the lovely and inspiring restaurateurs I’ve met this year, Daryl D’Souza stands out as seemingly being more concerned with giving to the community than trying to make sales. And that, bewilderingly (and awesomely) enough, seems to be the key to his success.
The 34-year-old co-owner of Lou Dawg’s is incredibly busy, running multiple businesses and paying the bills as a marketing teacher at Ryerson University, where his second restaurant is situated. “It’s like celebrity status,” he said of his interactions with the students on-campus who see him as their prof by day, their wings-and-beer supplier by night. He admits though that he has to limit his presence at this location and leave any silliness to happen under the roof of the original Lou Dawg’s spot on King Street.
His face will be even more recognizable soon, as he has recently recorded his very own TED talk, speaking on marketing and social media. A big bump to Daryl’s online profile came in the form of a mass of screaming little girls — also known as “Directioners.” When members of the teenybopper band One Direction stopped by in February and tweeted about the poutine and brownie dishes, Daryl’s phone practically exploded: the tweets got more than 8500 retweets and were favourited 4700 times. That day, @LouDawgs was trending all over the world, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand. This incident is proof of the power of the internet collective, which Daryl preaches both in class and with his side business, NextStep social media consulting. Though the Directioners were a stroke of luck, his other intentional partnerships with the likes of Jack Daniels, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the charity Musicounts (which donates instruments to schools) are nothing to sneeze at, either. With upcoming television appearances, brewing his own beer, catering for George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, planning fundraising concerts for Musicounts and more product opportunities in the works, I can’t believe how warm and relaxed he was this past Friday, when we met as per his invitation.
Daryl says the key to running Lou Dawg’s is hiring the right people, who fit with his music-loving persona and who are “likeable, down-to-earth and genuine.” That way, the restaurants run like well-oiled machines, and he and his partner, chef Sean Smith, can step away at any time. Perhaps most cunning is that his managers make money from the restaurants profits, as opposed to sales. As a result, the team is as dedicated to the business’ success as he is.
“Dedication” is a word that can be used to describe many elements of Daryl’s personality traits and business practices. In the case of Lou Dawg’s, I found it most impressive in his devotion to food quality. While Lou Dawg’s is beginning to become a chain restaurant, they share the same farm-to-table mindset that many smaller, more expensive chef-owned restaurants embody. The Southern-inspired food, delicately smoked using wood chips from Jack Daniels barrels, can be calorie-laden, the fries have been cut fresh daily; the chickens were bought directly from a butcher, never frozen, and were smoked whole. Not only is it personally important to Daryl to serve food that he would be happy to serve his own (imaginary) children, but it also shows that he knows what Toronto diners wants. “First everyone wanted to eat fast. Then everyone wanted to eat ‘fresh.’ Now everyone wants to eat <i>real</i>, and that’s what we do.” We had an incredible spread to sample including the smoked turkey wrap, Jack Daniels french onion soup, dry rub wings and the famous “Loutine.” Most delicious of all was the chicken and cheese chilli, using cheese curds straight from a farm.
In all, Lou Dawg’s is a great representation of Daryl D’Souza: easy-going, fun and comforting. He clearly loves to use his business to help the community and to connect people, finding more satisfaction from that than any possible financial gain for himself. After all, Lou Dawg’s is not his moneymaking venture (yet), but rather a catalyst for bringing together good music, good food and good people. It’s an inspired pick when going out for pub food, not only for the quality and the atmosphere, but because this is a business and a businessman you should be proud to support.
Oh, and the possibility of running into the entire $125 million roster of Blue Jays players while eating your dinner is a pretty good motivator, too.
Written by Alyssa Luckhurst