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17 Jan 2020

Time 5 minutes

Gens du Vieux Portrait: Michael Tozzi

Gens du Vieux Portrait: Michael Tozzi

On the corner of Place d’Armes, on rue Saint-Jacques, a great restaurant opened up about a year ago. The owner, Michael Tozzi, welcomed us into his establishment that perfectly balances design and great food to the point that you can feel this historic neighbourhood’s crazy charm permeating it right as you walk in the door.

Overcoming the challenges of an entrepreneur, living the life of an influencer, and gathering inspirations and routines, Michael has worked hard and has succeeded because of it.

A meticulous preparation with a worthy result

“I tried to look outside of the Vieux,” he confided to us at the start, laughing slightly. “But I searched a really long time without finding premises elsewhere for the restaurant I wanted to open after leaving the Olive and Gourmando. When I found this place, I liked the arches, but it still needed a lot of work.” The old and rather obscure bar that occupied 244 rue Saint-Jacques before only kept its huge windows, which are now a perfectly-showcased architectural signature. Michael met with us on the caramel-coloured bench seat that gives the place a warm, woodsy touch. “I love the design,” Michael explains, showing how the place has been modeled after his tastes. He flashes a smile and follows up with: “But that is only a small part of the whole process!”

“My father and I did the renovations here for about a year,” Michael reminisces. “We really bonded over that. Today when he comes by, he stops for a second, looks at the restaurant with pride, and never misses the chance to say ‘Ah, we made that!’ He always gets so emotional!” His father has been part of the “Gens du Vieux” for ten years now, living and working in the neighbourhood. This unique instance of proximity has allowed Michael to become a part of the renewed quintessence of Old Montreal, and may partly explain the Dandy’s success.

A timeline of the declared success

“We got a great welcome from the press and social media, and honestly, that was a really great surprise!” explains Michael, who did his studies on the Montreal culinary scene. “I learned a lot when I was at Olive and Gourmando, and Dyan was always a mentor for me! I always go to her if I have any troubles or doubts! I didn’t want to set up in Old Montreal, because I didn’t want to enter into competition with her. But at the end of the day, even if we have two popular restaurants, what we offer is quite different!” Of course, between his travels and his insatiable curiosity, he would have liked to have been able to establish himself somewhere else in North America, and other big cities would have been tempting. But he exercised his prudence, and has made his place here. “I’ve done stories in Le Devoir, and made a name for myself here. It has taken time, and I think that it’s good for me to have the Dandy where it is. Otherwise, it would not have had the same strength or the same identity,” he said, eyeing the Dandy’s main room with satisfaction.

Challenges and inspirations

“I will usually say ‘we’, even though I’m the sole proprietor, because this is really a team effort,” Michael explains. As one would expect, Dandy has undergone several staffing changes, notably in the dining room. But the businessman puts it into perspective this way: “We have had the likes of students who go back to their studies, and others who perhaps didn’t find what they expected come through here. But currently, we have a great team and that means everything to me. It allows me to loosen up; I can entrust my baby to the team and finally take some time for me!”

Since the establishment opened and made the risky wager on only being open during the daytime, it became an immediate success which can be seen notably in their weekend brunches. And equally as notable, the variety, freshness, and originality of the menu upholds its promise of well-presented dishes. “What we’re working on now is developing the take-out side of our café counter. Right now, people see us more as a restaurant, but we’re also a café!” Michael exclaims, pointing out the attractive pastry counter and impressive coffee machine.

Cafés, brunches, and parties

Dandy’s allures are of such impeccable taste, that it could convince even Gatsby to come out during the daytime. Nothing super flashy, just a small art deco side that is divinely underlined by the décor’s geometry and an impressive bouquet of flowers. Whether you need to hold a business lunch or a lunch between friends, or want to enjoy a coffee in store, or on the go, Dandy offers a private room until closing that you can reserve. “We’re trying to push this café side and promote our space, as our hours permit,” he explains. When you come in, you’re browsing as if thumbing through a magazine. But when you settle in, just as if you’ve found a worthwhile article to read, you experience a certain pleasure and immediate satisfaction that only this restaurant’s beauty can inspire.

A man of business, fitness, and photography

Now that he has daytime operating hours and a team he can count on, Michael can finally revisit some of his first loves like sports and travel. "I’ve finally gotten back to the gym! I work out four to five times a week when I can. I love it, it helps me clear my mind and it’s good for the body.” A veritable Instagram muse, the popularity of his personal profile could make any influencer green with envy; Michael remains modest though.

True to his commitment to esthetics and authenticity, the Dandy proprietor has given the Old Neighbourhood a glimmering treasure for foodies, where the fare doesn’t need to be immortalized, but will probably still give you the urge to take a picture of it before you dig in!