Robert Prete said he chose to open his restaurant Domaine MaMo in Mount Pleasant Village because he felt “the softness, the caring type of people” who live there.
“It’s the sense of community that’s there,” he said.
And what he’s bringing them is “a European escape,” featuring French-Italian regional cuisine, prepared by renowned chef Didier LeRoy.
Prete has been in the restaurant business for 34 years.
After he had spent a few months wrapping up his previous midtown Toronto restaurant Coquine, Prete and his family travelled to the south of France — in the heart of the Riviera — where the family had been going for eight years.
“Over there it’s a mixed culture of Italian and French,” Prete said, which inspired him to open Domaine MaMo in Toronto at 581 Mount Pleasant Rd. on June 24.
Prete described Domaine MaMo as a special place, due in large part to its high-end, polished environment.
“It’s because of the way the place looks,” he said. “It’s the music, the lighting and the energy that I feed off from the clients that come in.”
Prete depicted a night at Domaine MaMo as a global experience with a village feel.
“This place is like a vessel that allows us to be somewhere else,” he said. “Customers always say [the restaurant] reminds them of their travels.”
This seems to help ease the disappointment for those who have had to cancel or put off travel plans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prete’s passion for food came from watching his parents and grandparents cook growing up as a child.
“I would literally jump on my bicycle on Sunday morning to help my grandmother make fresh pasta in the morning, so that we can all have our family meal with my aunts and uncles at the evening family meal,” he recalled.
He met Chef Didier LeRoy in the early 1990s when he was introduced to him by his cousin. Before opening Domaine MaMo, Prete went through a mentorship with LeRoy “just so I could be around him and learn from the great master.”
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During this time Prete learned valuable techniques about how a restaurant runs in the kitchen, which he said gave him confidence to do some of the cooking when the restaurant is short-staffed.
Although COVID has presented many challenges for businesses, being able to have a patio outside, because of the city’s Café TO program, helped the restaurant survive during the warmer months.
Customers appreciated the grip blocks that were installed around the patio, which Prete said created an aesthetically beautiful barrier while making customers feel safe from passing cars, while also lending itself to a more pleasant atmosphere.
Importance of sharing a meal
Thanks to indoor dining once again being permitted, and because of how well the staff at Domaine MaMo work together, “it is such a positive energy in there,” Prete said.
“COVID’s created a lot of anxiety for people, I focus on people that I think are low and I give them a memorable experience.”
What really captures him is watching people eat, he said. He can tell from their eyes and their hands if they are enjoying the meal.
“What Covid has taught me is how important family and friends truly are and how little material things we really need,” he said. “The few hours spent just sitting around the table sharing a meal with family and friends is so important.”
After all, food is meant to restore not only our stomachs, but our souls, he believed.
Domaine MaMo is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.