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Joe Friday’s career is the paradigm example of pursuing a dream, grabbing the bull by the horns, and pushing as hard as possible to succeed.

As a young chef in the making, he entered The Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he excelled as a top student. At age 20, he was one of only ten people selected globally to train within the renowned Walt Disney World culinary program. 

And like a Disney film, it was a fairy-tale story, when his talents took him across Europe, Asia, and the United States, including notable stints at the French Laundry, under the mentorship of Thomas Keller; a role as a Saucier at Nobu in Honolulu; and serving as the Executive Sous Chef at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. 

Over a decade ago, Friday relocated to Toronto, to participate in the opening of Luma at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. His contributions extended to the launch of Bar Mozza, and he eventually ascended to part-owner and Executive Chef at ViaVai. Friday was also part owner and chef of Calii Love. 

In 2019, Friday opened Friday Roots in Toronto, a tribute to his North Carolina birthplace, and ranked within BlogTO’s top 10 bars. (It closed amid the pandemic.)

His latest, and first solo restaurant venture, Friday Burger Company, was two and a half years in the making, with two locations in Toronto. Throughout his career, Friday has had the privilege of privately preparing meals for professional athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and world leaders. He earned recognition from Toronto Life as one of their top private chefs to hire for holiday gatherings.

What differentiates your burgers? 

I take a lot of spices from the South and incorporate them into the spice mix that goes on my burger when we season it on the grill. 

Why did you enter the culinary arts?

My grandfather was a chef. It always made me proud that he was a chef. But I wanted to be an athlete, a doctor, a plumber, so many different things other than a chef. Then, there was a moment in my life where I was like, ‘I think I’m good at this. I could do well at this and make a living from this.’ So, I gave it a full try. As a young chef, I worked at restaurants where my grandfather was a chef. There were some older guys there who knew my grandfather. They would talk about all these glowing things about him, and that only made me want to pursue it even more. 

What was the Disney experience like? 

I realized I didn’t know anything. I worked with chefs and cooks who have been doing it for 20 years. When you go to school you need to find someone you trust – a professor or mentor – in order to get the maximum out of you. I didn’t have that. 

That had more of an impact, because I got to do that, and also learn. I did that for a year while also working full time at Epcot. I did Wide World of Sports. I did a couple of rides as well. The internship lets you stay for six months, and then you could stay for an additional two months for anything you want to do at Disney. So, I stayed and worked at the mic, and greeted guests.

What did you learn about greeting guests? 

The guest experience. Being on the mic, you meet people and get to see that experience. You have families that have saved up, spending sometimes $10,000, and spending either a week or two weeks there. That’s a very special moment to them. Anything that goes wrong will be a lasting memory. If you do it right, and Disney does a good job with this, that family is going to come back. Then the kids come back. The customer experience is so important. We thrive off of that. I teach my staff: That’s the most important part. We have to read our negative reviews. We have to read them together. Because if we have a restaurant and it’s 5.0, and I step away for two days and we get negative reviews, we have to figure out why, and fix that. Let’s make sure it is worth them coming back. I learned that at Disney. Customers are all you have. 

What are your best management skills? 

Hiring people to do what needs to be done. Not micromanaging. Giving them space. Not looking over their shoulder. Not being overbearing. Give them the right tools; train them the right way, and back off. I need my staff to be just as invested in this place as me. 

What advice would you give to young chefs? 

Don’t show up to work to clock in. You can take that job of being a fry cook and end up the owner of the restaurant one day. Only if you take your work home. What does that mean? You know the guy over there is slicing fish. Figure out what techniques he is using, and ask him about it the next day. I think every young professional should spend 45 minutes each day learning.

Is it kind of ballsy to open two restaurants at once?

It is ballsy to have dreams and follow them too. There was a period in my life when I was working for people I didn’t respect, and I don’t think they respected me. I woke up one day and said, ‘I don’t want to work for anybody. I want to work for myself.’ I still needed to work, but I just jumped all in. There was a period of 10 days where I was homeless. I was a very smart homeless guy, and went to hotels. I’d say, ‘My buddies are coming in for the weekend. I don’t know their room number.’ And I’d stay in the lobby. I’d also go to airports. I just needed somewhere to stay out of the weather. This was seven years ago. It was rough. 

You didn’t know anybody…?

I don’t know if it was that I didn’t know anybody, or if it was too much pride. I think the day I was going to give up, done with it, was the day I had a phone call from someone who offered me a job. It was a salad shop, making sandwiches. Lo and behold that same year, the guy ended up paying me just under $40K that year to cook for him privately. I was 36 years old.

And you didn’t think about going back to North Carolina? 

That was the day. I almost called my dad and told him I’m not going to make it. I left high school at 18 and jumped on the bus to see the world. Since that day, I’ve never asked for help from my parents. 

I would tell people just don’t give up on your dreams, but always have a plan.

Dave Gordon | Contributing Writer

Summer 2024

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