When Pedro Pereira emigrated from Portugal at 18 years old, becoming a chef and CEO wasn’t on his mind. In fact, it was soccer that brought him to Canada.
Cooking was initially a means to supplement his income after his coach told him he needed to get a job, but he ultimately fell in love with food. Fast forward a few years and Pereira opened his first restaurant, Fishbone, in Stouffville, Ont.
Humble beginnings characterize both restaurant and owner, as the now-booming restaurant started as “just another neighbourhood restaurant” simply known as “Pedro’s.”
Fishbone is carving out a name for itself based on its high standards of hospitality. “Fishbone is a product of my many years in the business, working with some of the best in the industry — day in and day out — perfecting the craft of hospitality,” says Pereira. “Like painting or music, everyone can do it, but not necessarily well. It’s about making a guest feel like they would be coming into your own home; like they’ve know you forever.”
Fishbone specializes in fresh seafood with the menu focused on what the nearby market has to offer.
“It’s nice to know a fish shipment from New Zealand or Portugal was line caught 24 hours ago,” Pereira says. “You need to stay connected to the source and heart of the product.”
The catch of the day is displayed on ice, cooked fresh and deboned tableside — unique in Canadian dining.
“Deboning fish tableside for as long as I did and being such a staple in Portuguese cuisine, I found the name Fishbone to be extremely fitting,” Pereira explains,” I knew I was ready to jump back into the upscale-dining scene with my own restaurant, with my own philosophy, standards and expectations.”
Those standards are high, with the Fishbone restaurants focusing not just on the product, but the guest experience.
“Our ability to create and foster relationships with our guests is a big component.The initial greeting, lighting, music choices and volume, our verbiage, pulling the chair out as they’re being seated… [it’s all important]. We don’t just look at it as a business transaction, it’s hospitality,” Pereira says.
Nine years after the first restaurant opened its doors in Stouffville, Fishbone has five locations, two of them in the Stouffville area, with other locations in Aurora and Innisfil, Ont. One of the Stouffville locations, Fishbone-On-The-Lake, sits on the shores of Musselman’s Lake and boasts a spectacular patio. The restaurant is situated right on the water and is open only during the summer, averaging more than 400 guests a day for lunch and dinner services during peak season.
The restaurants’ design — the work of Toronto-based Den Bosch + Finchley — boasts a Portuguese motif, with elements from back home blending with the design elements of the restaurant’s location. Pereira explains he tries to align the restaurant with the scenery around it. “If it’s closer to water, I add more nautical themes; if more urban, then more intimate and dark themes are at play.”
Portuguese and Mediterranean influence is evident in all the locations, whether it’s the general ambiance of the room, the tiles, the furniture or something as simple as a mural on the wall featuring Portuguese terminology.
“This type of cuisine targets every demographic. We’re fortunate to cater to anyone and everyone from local residents, CEOs, professional athletes such as NHL player Steven Stamkos, to Hollywood, music or modelling icons such as Cindy Crawford,” Pereira says.
While the menu includes Portuguese staples, such as Arroz a Valenciana and fresh seafood, Pereira says he doesn’t want to offer only traditional flavours.
“Our menu is not traditional Portuguese, but we add that identity wherever and whenever possible. I love promoting my country,” Pereira says. “And just like back home, we emphasize the freshness of the product and then play with the five elements crucial to our food — acid, salt, spice, sweetness and texture.”
Those five pillars are evident throughout Fishbone’s menu. From its starters to its entrées, each menu item boasts its own unique flavouring. Fishbone also features vast and flavourful wine cellars, with most of the selections being Portuguese.
Despite not having formal culinary training, Pereira created the Fishbone menu and serves as executive chef for all his restaurants.
His goal is to lay the foundation for more locations and says his restaurant concept could be at the forefront of the next big trend.
“Portuguese cuisine is ready to be the next big trend; it just needs to be pushed through to the masses, especially in the U.S.,” Pereira says.
The future looks bright for Fishbone as it continues to expand its presence. In fact, the concept opened its fifth and newest location in Laguna Beach, Calif. last September.
“We wanted more consistency in our customer traffic and weather has a significant impact. California is the fifth-largest economy in the world and has a beautiful coastline, so it was a perfect fit,” explains Pereira.
As the brand grows, Pereira plans to stick with the same fervent attitude towards food and hospitality he’s had since day one.
“People can get food anywhere, but they’ll continue to choose places that offer them something more, an experience of sorts, like a great book, a great movie and a great concert. As they approach the restaurant, the stage curtain opens and it’s your show to perform,” Pereira said.