Presenting: Mary Lee from Spiaggia Restaurant – A Hospitality Entrepreneur with a Heart for the Arts

Unfortunately international events have had an impact on the Beach. The restaurant owners in the Beach and Toronto in general have really been affected by the slow-down of American tourism in Toronto. In 2003 Toronto was hit by the SARS crisis and more recently travel between Canada and the US has become more difficult due to passport requirements and terrorism prevention measures. Mary Lee has noticed a significant decrease in American customers over the last few years. In addition, the popularity of the Beach as an entertainment area has raised rents for many merchants which makes doing business in this neighbourhood more difficult. Mary Lee indicated that she is fortunate since she owns Spiaggia’s building.

Gorgonzola Carbonara

MaryLee explained that she has about 14 full-time and part-time staff members working at Spiaggia. Her chef Jacobo Guerra is originally from Ecuador and has been in Canada since 1979. He started in the hospitality industry 16 years ago after completing a chef’s course at George Brown College. In addition to his culinary education Jacobo also has a talent for arts and took a fine art program at the Ontario College of Arts. Jacobo’s assistant Victor hails from India and came to Canada in 2001. He has been working at Spiaggia for almost three years now and says he has learned everything he knows from the expert, Jacobo.

Some members of the Spiaggia team: Jacobo, Brittany and Victor

Art is a common theme at Spiaggia: Brittany Ross works part-time as a waitress at the restaurant and she owns her own photography and web design business. (She designed the Spiagga website.) During my visit I also had a chance to sit down and chat with John Dowding, a renowned local photographer and photography teacher, who regularly participates in the Beach Studio Tour. John has an interesting event coming up in early February: a photo tour to Havana, he and I were going to arrange a one-on-one interview so I would have a chance to learn more about one of the many artists in the Beach.

John Dowding, a well-known photographer in the Beach

John indicated that Mary Lee is an active sponsor of the Beach Studio Tour and is always available to help if the artists need something. He commented that over the years he has enjoyed a great friendship with Mary Lee and loves to come here for a good dinner.

After my interview with Mary Lee and my conversation with John Dowding I had a chance to sit down and sample some of Spiaggia’s cuisine myself. Spiaggia’s menu is extensive with many mouthwatering choices, and a prix-fix menu including a starter, a main course and a dessert, is available at the reasonable price of $25.95 .

Tira Misu: my favourite!

I decided to go for the prix fix menu and had a Caesar salad to start followed by an extremely tasty “Vitello alla Balsamic” – a delicious arrangement of grilled veal, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, with a leeks balsamic Dijon sauce and garlic butter capellini on the side. I am not usually much of a meat eater, but the tender veal accompanied by an interesting array of vegetable flavours was scrumptious. My dinner partner had the Gorgonzola Carbonara and commented that it was fabulous as well. After a delicous tiramisu, my favourite Italian dessert, Mary Lee treated us to a sampling of the famous chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce. All I can say I was glad I had finally made the trek down to discover Trattoria Spiaggia.

And I had a chance to meet Mary Lee, a gifted interior designer, a restaurant owner committed to serving high quality fresh and healthy food and an entrepreneur with a big heart for the arts…

A taste of chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce…

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