As It Happens

Toronto resto Alo is on the world's best list and the chef says it's just the boost he needs right now

Toronto restaurant Alo has once again made the list of the world's top restaurants much to the surprise of owner and chef Patrick Kriss. He says running the restaurant out of a downtown parking lot for several months may have helped.

Alo is the only Canadian entry on the list of 100 top eateries in the world

Patrick Kriss is the chef and owner of Alo Restaurant Group. His flagship restaurant, Alo, made the list of the world's best restaurants. (Alo Food Group)

Story Transcript

Toronto restaurant Alo has once again made the list of the world's top restaurants much to the surprise of owner and chef Patrick Kriss. He says running the restaurant out of a downtown parking lot for several months may have helped. 

The World's 50 Best Restaurants annual list (which actually includes 100 in total) has been ranking eateries around the world for nearly 20 years, and is based on votes from over 1,000 foodie experts.

Alo came in at number 98 of 100 and is the only Canadian restaurant on the list this year.

"It was very welcomed, but it was a huge surprise. I wasn't expecting it. And with everything that restaurants have gone through, I wasn't even really thinking about it," Kriss told As It Happens host Carol Off.

The restaurant previously made the list in 2019, at number 90.

For about four and a half months, Kriss operated his flagship restaurant in a parking lot, serving a ten-course tasting menu.

"We brought all the staff back, we brought all the furniture from Alo, and we basically set up this tent on Wellington to replicate Alo. So maybe that had something to do with it," he said.

"There are a lot of judges in Canada that travel and maybe they were all there. I can't really explain it, that's my best answer for you."

The dining room at Alo, recently named to the list of the world's best restaurants. (Jonathan Adediji/Alogroup)

Pivot to delivery

Kriss opened Alo in 2015, at the downtown Toronto intersection of Queen St. and Spadina Ave. It was followed by three others: the diner-style Aloette restaurant, the steakhouse Alobar, and Salon, a private event space.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America in March of 2020, Kriss was forced to close his spaces down completely. At the time, Kriss had 175 people on the payroll, and had to lay off 150 of them.

We had the mindset that, 'OK, we're never going to open again as a regular restaurant ... we're going to think take out.'"- Patrick Kriss, owner and chef of Alo Food Group

He remembers standing in the bar of his restaurant a week or two before the shutdown, and marvelling at how it still felt normal, for now.

"I remember in my head it's like, 'Oh my goodness, we're going to be closing soon.' I couldn't believe it."

With the restaurants closed for in-person dining, Kriss and his staff pivoted to making food for delivery.

He said it took a couple of weeks for orders to ramp up — but when they did, it gave everyone "a little bit of light" to see it was possible to find a way forward.

"We did well. We slowly started hiring people back and we had the mindset that, 'OK, we're never going to open again as a regular restaurant ... we're going to think take out.'" he said. "Now we're a new company, and now we're just going to do takeout."

The takeout varied to match each of the restaurants.

Alouette served burgers, so many that Kriss estimates they were selling between 1,000 and 1,500 a week.

"Alouette basically single-handedly saved the company because it was so busy right off the bat," he said. 

Alo did five-course menus at $65 a person. The weekly menus could include meat dishes, fish, and even raw seafood and oysters.

"We would shuck the oysters, we put the top back on, we'd put them in a nice little container full of ice," said Kriss. "The raw seafood, we'd have little ice packs and we would use an elastic band to keep it on, keep it held together."

As pandemic restrictions loosened, and indoor dining has returned to Ontario, Kriss was able to increase his staff to about 120 people. The restaurants have planned new menus — and, most importantly, they're busy.

"It's good to see people out," Kriss said.

Written by Andrea Bellemare. Produced by Ashley Fraser. 

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