Sitting down for the jungle brunch at Chotto Matte means being invited into a world of brightly coloured cockatoos, lush green hanging vines, and vibrantly bold Peruvian-Japanese flavours.
Chotto Matte is a Nikkei cuisine concept – a fusion born out of Japanese immigration to Peru. Restaurateur Kurt Zdesar was introduced to Nikkei cuisine on a research trip to Asia. Inspired by what he tasted, he hopped on a plane to Peru to study the culinary scene. His inspiration came together in the first Chotto Matte location in London, England. In 2017, a second establishment followed in Miami. In 2019, Chotto Matte found its next home in Toronto.
Located in the heart of Toronto’s financial district, Chotto Matte has a strong focus on service, design, and authentic food and drink. Diners walk into a significantly large space, with vivid street art on the walls. Pre-pandemic, the restaurant was able to welcome up to 600 diners per night plus an additional 160 at the bar.
For such a large space with a distinct design and ambiance component, the pandemic presented a unique challenge. “Our first priority at Chotto Matte is the health and safety of our staff and we continue to support them in the best way possible,” says Zdesar.
“We originally focused on delivery through 3rd party partnerships to offer guests the Chotto experience delivered right to their door. We then expanded to the popular Chotto At Home Kits, a meal kit complete with ingredients and detailed instructions to prepare Chotto dishes from the safety and comfort of one’s own home, allowing us to offer those outside of the GTA the opportunity to enjoy Nikkei cuisine. The kits were a success among supporters and we are grateful but are overjoyed to have people back in the restaurant to enjoy the food as well as the atmosphere— to enjoy the complete Chotto Matte experience.”
As restaurants began to reopen their doors this summer, Chotto Matte wanted to invigorate patrons with a colourful and lively brunch experience. Enter the Jungle Brunch. “The Jungle Brunch is reminiscent of the Peruvian jungle and all its wonders, bringing the vibrant life of the Amazonian forest to Toronto,” explains Zdesar.
The decor is curated with this atmosphere in mind, creating an elevated brunch experience. “From the luscious greenery, to the body-painted performers and costume-clad entertainers, the decor creates an experience certain to amaze,” says Zdesar. A customer can expect to be greeted by tropical birds and dancers dressed as reptiles, butterflies, and other jungle creatures. “Adding performers and other forms of entertainment represents Chotto Matte’s continuing efforts to raise the bar in the restaurant scene globally,” Zdesar adds.
If customers come for the jungle, they stay for the food. “As Toronto’s unique destination for Nikkei cuisine, the Jungle Brunch menu was created to authentically capture both Japanese and Peruvian influences.” Standout starters include the Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice and the Yellowtail Nikkei Sashimi. Mains include the Pollo Picante (the most popular dish), chicken topped with red and yellow anticucho, yuzu juice, chives, and vegetable tempura, as well as the Asado De Tira, slow-cooked BBQ beef with purple potato purée, teriyaki jus, and chives.
Between the colourful, bold, and elegantly plated dishes, the verdant decor, and the performers, the brunch experience demands to be Instagrammed. “Chotto Matte has continued to stay on top of social trends, improving our content and strategy consistently,” says Zdesar. He adds: “We’ve used social media more frequently during the lockdown as it was the most intimate medium for us to stay connected to our audience and visitors.”
A vital part of the experience is excellent customer service. While many operations cite labour shortages as a major challenge, Chotto Matte has been fortunate. “Chotto has retained 90 per cent of our original team, who have been with us since opening. We have recruited 3-4 new staff members and are currently fully staffed.”
According to Zdesar, thorough internal communication is why they’ve been able to have such high retention. “The team created a dedicated application ‘My Chotto’ for our employees worldwide to have a platform where they can communicate internally and complete courses relating to their work, offering them the opportunity to learn and evolve professionally.”
The future looks bright for the Chotto Matte team. They recently announced four new global locations: a second location in London, in Marylebone; in Doha, Qatar; in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and in San Francisco, United States. Each location is expected to open in 2022. “We are delighted to bring the Chotto Matte experience to new and exciting cities and to further introduce guests to Nikkei cuisine,” says Zdesar.
The journey has not been smooth, but by exploring new ventures, innovating to provide a unique offering, and capturing that pent-up demand and excited energy for a return to dining, Chotto Matte has been able to capitalize on a moment and drive traffic and sales.