Sept. 19, 2019
08 min read
There are some people you meet that simply captivate you. They ask the right questions, they always want to know more — and you always want to know more about them. When we met Lucio Carlomusto while eating at one of his restaurants, that’s exactly what happened.
It wasn’t planned, but it was pretty obvious that Lucio was our type of guy. The kind that takes risks — but risks that pay off because he puts in the work. So, after our meal, we sat down with him to talk about how he went from business school to thinking about how to put his city on the map by paying attention to the little things.
How did you get into the restaurant business?
I was studying business administration, with a focus on finance and international business and I was working part-time. At that time, I was working for the municipal government in the tax department and I was working in a restaurant — Café Ferreira, one of the landmark restaurants in Montreal. That’s where I fell in love with the industry.
There’s something about the interaction with people. You get to meet all types of people in a restaurant — local businesspeople, tourists, people on first dates. You learn a lot about people in the restaurant industry and you kind of create a network from there.
The ability to give someone an experience that they enjoy and remember — that’s what made me fall in love with the industry. That’s why I strayed away from the path I was on.
Is that what drives you? To have the ability to make someone’s evening really special? Say, on a first date, like you said.
Yeah, absolutely. It means a lot that people trust you to give them a truly special experience. You want to make sure that people have the best experience they can every time they foot inside your restaurant. It’s a lot of responsibility — but, in the end, it’s worth it.
It’s still a pretty big career switch, though. How did you make that jump?
I was offered a raise at the city, but I realized that I didn’t necessarily want to work in an office the rest of my life. And right around then, that’s when the opportunity came about to acquire a restaurant with my group, it was perfect.
Now, we own four restaurants — Seasalt and Ceviche, Birdbar, Bastard and Escondite — and that’s our main focus, but we dabble in other things, too; we own properties that we rent out to people coming to Montreal on vacation.
It means a lot that people trust you to give them a
truly special experience. It’s a lot of responsibility
— but, in the end, it’s worth it.
It means a lot that people trust you to give them a truly special experience. It’s a lot of responsibility — but, in the end, it’s worth it.
With that combination, it seems like you’re kind of setting out to curate how people see your city when they visit?
We’re in the business of accessorizing, to a certain extent. So the restaurants and the rentals — they go hand in hand. We want to give tourists an experience when they come to town; but we also want to offer locals a chance to enjoy the best of what Montreal has to offer. We want people to see Montreal as a destination — and that’s good for everyone.
And what do you think makes a restaurant great? How do you differentiate yourself in the restaurant business — it’s a pretty crowded marketplace.
Something that stays true through our various places is the vibe. Our food is great, our drinks are great — but the music, the decor, the ambiance, that’s what creates a synergy. The vibe and energy of a restaurant is so important to people enjoying their experience. The way we treat our customers is something we’re super attentive to.
Do you think that’s what people notice first when they go to a restaurant?
I think it’s a mix of everything. I think people might notice the decor before anything else — but it can be quickly forgotten. I think what people notice and remember is the first interaction, from the mannerisms of the person they’re talking to, to how the menu is described to them. That can leave a real impression.
People don’t see the work that goes into that.
They just walk into your restaurant, see that it’s
busy and they think you’re a millionaire. But
that’s not how it works.
People don’t see the work that goes into that. They just walk into your restaurant, see that it’s busy and they think you’re a millionaire. But that’s not how it works.
That’s interesting — so it’s about the experience? Do you have a memory from a restaurant that sticks with you? A time you remember so vividly because everything was above and beyond?
It was watching the older waiters at Café Ferreira, where I started. For them, it was a career and they paid so much attention to every small detail — when someone made a reservation, the waiters would know what food they liked, what wine they usually ordered. They knew everything. That attention to detail — I found it mind-blowing. I realized how much that attention to detail meant. You’d assume that people might want to change things up, but those people would always come and take the same things, so they appreciated it that the waiters remembered and cared enough to make sure everything was ready.
What about yourself? Do you like to change things up?
Myself? I always talk with the person serving me. I like to hear their side of it — what they think I’d enjoy. I want to see how much they know about the restaurant and, if I feel comfortable enough, I’ll just let them pick for me. I want to have the best experience that they think they can give me. If I pick myself and it’s not good — well, that’s on me. If I let them pick, and I enjoy it, it’ll make the evening so much more memorable because you can appreciate the passion the server has for the food and the wine and the restaurant as a whole.
So, you like to change up your food as much as your career path. Speaking of that — do you ever see people you went to school with, who went down the traditional path and think to yourself ‘man, I’m happy with the choice I made?
Absolutely. It’s funny, because, some of the people I went to school with will come through one of the restaurants when I’m there. It’s eye-opening for them and sometimes they seem kind of bummed out — but, to me, it’s like no, you should be happy because you have a great position in the field you chose and it’s something you’ve wanted to do since we were in school together.
The grass is always greener on the other side!
Something like that. They think it’s incredible to see that I went a completely different way. All of the people I’ve reconnected with — we’ve all managed to have success in our own different ways. But we’ve all used the same base of knowledge we got in school. That’s pretty cool to see.
And what would you say the biggest misconception people have about the work you do?
They see the glory and the recognition, but they don’t see the back end. The restaurant industry is so cutthroat! Especially in Montreal, where there’s a new restaurant opening every month — if not every week! People follow trends — so not only do you have to always be keeping your costs under control, you have to find a way to stay relevant and localize clients. People don’t see the work that goes into that. They just walk into your restaurant, see that it’s busy and they think you’re a millionaire. But that’s not how it works.