2022 Independent Restaurateur of the Year: Teatro Restaurant Group

Mia Berloni, general manager Alforno Bakery & Café; Dario Berloni, president /proprietor; Matthew Batey, Chief Operating Officer, director of Culinary | PHOTOGRAPHY BY COLIN WAY

When Dario Berloni opened Teatro Restaurant in a historic building in Calgary in 1992, little did he realize that he was creating a legacy. The Italian fine-dining establishment continues to thrive today, along with a host of other eateries that now comprise the Teatro Restaurant Group.

Today, the winner of this year’s Pinnacle Award for Independent Restaurateur of the Year, boasts a broad portfolio that includes Teatro Ristorante, Cucina Market Bistro, Vendome Café, Alforno Bakery & Café, E.A.T., Holy Cow, and a private-events venue. Whatever the format and footprint, there’s a common thread that ties them together: quality ingredients and in-home hospitality that is second to none.

Berloni first came to Canada to attend university. After graduation he dabbled in myriad business interests, including real estate and on occasion, small monetary investments in restaurants.

“He was not a restaurateur,” says Matthew Batey, Chief Operating Officer, Teatro Restaurant Group. “But his mother was an amazing cook, so he understood classic Italian culture and hospitality. One of the aspects about Dario being a businessperson before becoming a restaurateur has been his ability to recognize when things are not going the way they are planned and doing something about them.”

Beloni’s other passion for preserving heritage buildings came into play when he founded Teatro. “When Dario acquired the historic Dominion Bank Building across from the Calgary Performing Arts Centre, he knew it was the right place for a restaurant,” says Batey. “His vision was always to take care of people through food and drink. It’s a value his mother instilled in him.”

Growth since the early Teatro days was staged and purposeful. In the early 2000s, Berloni acquired another heritage building in Calgary’s Sunnyside neighbourhood that already had a small restaurant. When the lease came due, he opened Vendome Café, and Teatro became Teatro Restaurant Group.

Another opportunity followed to open a new restaurant in 8th Avenue Place in downtown Calgary. Cucina (meaning kitchen) opened in 2012 as a combination grab-and-go/bistro offering. This was followed by E.A.T., which specializes in office catering for people in the downtown core.

“All these concepts show the diversity and breadth within the Teatro Restaurant Group,” says Batey. “Whatever the volume of the operation, there is still the commitment to quality.”

Bread for example, has been a cornerstone of the operation. Originally, production was centred at Teatro. As demand grew, it opened Alforno Bakery & Café in 2015 to manage the growing demand for fresh-baked bread and pastries. “Coffee was also a big part of our experience,” says Batey. “We were able to really solidify our coffee program with Alforno.”

Opening Holy Cow, a gelato and doughnut shop, in 2020 during the pandemic turned out to be fortunate timing, says Batey. “It did well for us as demand for takeout grew.”

During the pandemic, the group launched the Teatro at Home program, creating meal kits for pickup and delivery and teaching online cooking classes. “We were able to support some premium clients and still deliver the Teatro experience,” says Batey.

The latest addition is a second Alforno location at Calgary’s First Street Market gourmet food hall. “It’s a very cool full-circle story because it’s the same physical space as a restaurant called Mescalero that Dario had been involved in when he was a young businessperson. It brings everything back to where he started.”

Asked about Teatro’s secret to success, Batey says it’s a long-standing commitment to providing people the best experiences in a way that is unpretentious, warm and welcoming. “Warm gracious hospitality is at the core of what we do. Taking care of people has been instilled through many generations of employees.”

With that, developing people has always been a key strategy for the operation, says Batey. “We had that in place long before the labour shortage. Bringing in and developing people with different backgrounds gives us different viewpoints and experiences. We go out of our way to provide a safe, warm, welcoming, and decent-paying place for young people to gain work experience.”

The beverage director has worked with educational institutions to create training programs on wine for all new employees. The company also provides educational allowances. “Even if they don’t stay with us, we like to make sure employees can get the base foundations that will benefit their careers in the long run,” says Batey.

Batey is particularly dedicated to his work on The Educational Partnership Foundation (TEPF), a not-for-profit immersive highschool training program for trades. “That gets me excited. I developed the six-week immersive program to provide trades-based learning opportunities for hospitality students. They get to experience the different aspects of cooking, from fine dining and bakery to breakfast and café training.”

Exposing at-risk high school students to these programs is an important mission for Teatro Restaurant Group. “We believe in cultivating the next generation of young culinarians and getting passionate people working inside restaurants. Just teaching somebody how to cook can give them important life skills.”

The team also works with the Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC), teaching in its Kids in the Kitchen program. “The premise of CFCC is to educate kids rather than relying on food banks,” says Batey.

Another organization, ChefCycle is dedicated to eliminating childhood hunger. “As a multi-generational business whose core team members have families, we want to work towards a time in society where kids don’t have to worry about a meal,” says Batey. “I have seen it first-hand. One young man in our TEPF program fainted on his first day because he hadn’t had a meal since his Friday lunch. This type of work is very necessary.”

The Group has also been a long-time supporter of the Calgary arts community. “We have a very strong commitment to the arts, providing scholarships at the Alberta University of the Arts to help young students grow as artists and travel, among other arts-related organizations and events,” explains Batey.

Teatro Restaurant Group is at an important transitional point in its evolution. Berloni has returned to Italy, and his daughter is poised to take over operations. “Mia grew up inside the restaurant group, working as a hostess, barista, and server,” says Batey. “She learned everything from the ground up. Now that she has graduated, she has returned full time. It’s good to know that the commitment to quality and taking care of people will continue. That is what we do.”


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