THORNHILL — Following Joe Boo’s Cookoos recent restaurant makeover, owner Joe Boussidan says his restaurant finally looks as good as his food tastes.
Joe Boussidan watches over his chickens in his renovated restaurant.
The kosher chicken restaurant, located at Chabad Gate and Bathurst Street in Thornhill, Ont., was recently done over by Food Network Canada’s Restaurant Makeover, a show whose challenge is to renovate, revamp and relaunch local restaurants.
“My food has always been delicious, but the décor was Home Depot gone wrong. It looked like we built it from extras in our garage,” said Boussidan, a 45-year-old father of seven who started Joe Boo’s about four years ago.
A former caterer at the Sephardic Kehila Centre, Boussidan, a native of Morocco, opened Cookoos with the goal of “serving the best food that just happened to be kosher.”
He scoured the market for about 11/2 years before opening, he said, and finally came upon a rotisserie manufactured in Seattle, Wash., that cooked chicken solely with the heat of burning logs.
He travelled to Seattle with three kosher chickens and cooked them using a brand-new oven so the chickens would remain kosher.
“After four hours, I took them out and tasted them. They were juicy, but nothing special. However, two hours later in my hotel room, the aroma of the wood surrounded me. I was overwhelmed by the delicious smell and immediately knew that people would love it. I was convinced.”
Once in business, though, he found that customers were mostly buying his chicken wings, hamburgers and steak sandwiches. “The wood-burned chicken was a sleeper. Then I perfected the roasting and seasoning.
“One Friday morning at 3 a.m., I was getting my chicken ready for Shabbat and the art of smoking came to me. I was alone with the fire and with God, and I figured out exactly how much wood to use, how close to the fire to cook and for how long. On that morning, I discovered how wood behaves.”
He took notes, he said, and after that his chicken sales doubled. “I use very little spices. The smoke seasons the chicken, and with 40 chickens cooking at a time, they self- baste.”
Since then, he said the Toronto Star has named his chicken the best rotisserie chicken in the Greater Toronto Area, and Toronto Life magazine has listed Cookoos as one of the best takeouts.
All this time, however, he concentrated on his food and overlooked the imperfections in his surroundings. “I had Band-Aid solutions to repairs, and the restaurant desperately needed refreshing.”
He contacted Restaurant Makeover, he said, and in his application told them that he needed a facelift of the restaurant’s physical structure and it’s menu and food presentation.
“The drama of my appeal lay in the fact that I had put everything on the line to produce the best roasted chicken. I had mastered the cooking technique, but I needed guidance to make my concept a genuine success story. My restaurant needed a new soul.”
As Cookoos was the first kosher restaurant to have a makeover done by the show, Boussidan had to teach the crew – including Toronto chef and Food Network Canada host Michael Bonacini – about kashrut.
The show also had to change its production schedule, because while a restaurant is typically redone in one week, they had to cease work for Shabbat.
Michael Taylor, Restaurant Makeover’s line producer, called Boussidan “the perfect candidate. He’s hardworking, ambitious, funny, and most important he has a great concept. The kosher aspect was no problem at all – we worked it into our schedule.”
The results, said Boussidan – he was not allowed into the restaurant until it was ready – “are amazing. When I first walked in, I was shocked.”
The most important change, he said, is that the crew, along with restaurant designer Glen Peloso, framed his “chicken theatre” with stone. “It is the centrepiece of the store, and it shows beautifully. Now when people walk in, they are greeted by a gorgeous stone wall.”
They also replaced the counter that ran along the window and wall with a banquette and tables, redid the tile walls, and replaced the diamond-tiled floor with a tobacco-coloured stained wood. “
Boussidan said that chef Bonacini developed a Joe Boos homemade barbecue sauce and chicken rub, and created a grilled chicken salad with baby spinach, mango and avocado in a lime citrus dressing and a grilled chicken wrap with pareve cheese.
“It was his first adventure into kosher food,” Boussidan said, “and he enjoyed it.”