Berkeley North is one of Hamilton’s top downtown restaurants
Berkeley North has brought a delicious piece of Cali love to the heart of Hamilton. Nestled along a strip of Hamilton eateries some call Restaurant Row, Berkeley North brings fresh, healthy options and a West-Coast inspired menu to King William Street. A favourite among Hamiltonians, local foodies and sweethearts on date night, Berkeley North was recently named one of the Top 100 Restaurants in Canada by OpenTable.
Similar to some of its King William counterparts, Berkeley North offers a unique dining experience. You can see and taste the farm-to-table spirit here, and after reading this interview, you may have a greater appreciation for the small plates you’ll be served. With creative cocktails, seasonal kombucha, a late night menu on weekends, Wine Wednesday and Happy Hour deals, and a 5-course sharing menu on offer, there’s lots to discover. We had the opportunity to speak with owners Matt Webber and Diana Chetcuti-Webber about their commitment to responsibly sourced ingredients, customer-first experiences and a dynamic menu that incorporates produce that changes with the seasons.
The food: a unique and fresh dining experience for meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike
You recently incorporated meat into your former pescatarian menu. How did you decide that was the right direction for the restaurant?
Matt: We found that we were becoming a little specialized with our style of menu and even some of our vegan and vegetarian guests would mention that their friends and spouses eat meat and they wanted to be able to come to our restaurant more often with larger groups. We took that information and thought about it.A couple months before our one-year anniversary, we made the decision to add meat to our menu. But in doing so, we always wanted to make sure we had dedicated, creative, and innovative vegan and vegetarian options. When we brought in meat we wanted to make sure it was sourced locally to the best of our abilities and it’s very important that it was raised in the best quality possible. Buying hormone, antibiotic free and local is very important to us.
So if you’re a vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, or meat-lover, you can dine at Berkeley North.
Matt: Absolutely. You can have everything. We are getting well known for our Taste of Berkeley North Menu, where you can come into the restaurant and enjoy a five-course meal. Within the choices in there, a vegan can have 5 vegan choices, a vegetarian can have 5 vegetarian choices and for someone who loves meat, you can have meat every single course as well.
Berkeley North is committed to using responsibly sourced ingredients. What does that mean to you and why is that a pride point?
Matt: This is something import to Diana and I. Both of us were vegan as well. We no longer are, we have a bit of meat from time to time. When we made the decision that we were going to eat meat, that was something that was important to us. We wanted to make sure that the meat we were eating was as good of quality as we could possibly get and we wanted to pass that on to our guests as well. They can be comfortable knowing that the meat they enjoy in our restaurant is thoughtfully sourced.
We go through five or six different suppliers whenever we are looking for a new piece of meat for the menu. We double check and speak with them in depth about where the meat comes from and we’re proud to use Cumbraes, which is a wonderful distributor in Dundas. We use them for a lot of the meat on our menu and they are massive, way ahead of their time, thinking about hormone and antibiotic free, sourcing free range, and a lot of care that went into the animals. So to us, when we talk about responsibly sourced ingredients, it’s actually understanding where this stuff is coming from. It’s very easy to just look in a catalogue from some big companies and pick chicken, fruit, and vegetables without knowing where it comes from. We wanted to take that extra step in understanding.
Now, at the same point, some of our meat, and especially when it comes to seafood, cannot be sourced locally because we are not fortunate in Ontario to be right beside an ocean. Some of our meat has to come from afar. But when it’s not local, we do make sure that it is responsibly sourced.
When ingredients are not local, would you say they’re largely sourced in Canada?
Matt: Absolutely. Unless it’s the winter season, it gets tougher with fruits and vegetables growing inside. But when it comes to summer, every single ingredient in the restaurant is coming from somewhere locally, or at least Canadian.
Are there any local farms in particular you could shout out to?
Matt: First, one of our biggest shout outs is Backyard Harvest. A wonderful gentleman named Russ grows produce literally in Hamilton backyards. It’s about a 3-4 kilometre radius from where we are right now and he works with Hamiltonians to use their land and produce wonderful veggies. Then he brings them straight to us. Our chef takes a lot of inspiration and heads to these different plots with Russ where he finds different ingredients that he really likes and gets inspired to come up with dishes based on that. Russ is one of our favourites. Another one we use is 100K. They are close to Toronto and they try to source all their products from within 100 kilometres from where they are.
“If I can’t live in California, then I am going to spend my efforts bringing that here.”
The experience: good vibes, delicious food, and great cocktails in Hamilton
Berkeley North is known to be a “West Coast inspired kitchen.” What is it about the West Coast that caught your attention?
Diana: The reason we call it Berkeley North is because we were inspired to create this restaurant while we were travelling in California. It started out that we wanted to try and live there and try to find jobs to live that California lifestyle. *Laughs* It wasn’t as easy as we thought, so we wanted to try to bring that West Coast vibe to Hamilton. If I can’t live in California, then I am going to spend my efforts bringing that here.
So when you come to Berkeley North, I would say you can feel it in our decor, as well as the care-free, easy going vibe that we present here. Our tiles on our bar are inspired by a place in Santa Monica. The planks on our wall, I wanted a specific size — instead of being very thin, I wanted them to be big because I saw that in California. We really just wanted to create that West Coast vibe when you come in here and eat. And I think that we have done a pretty good job of it.
— TrueResident (@TrueResident) April 6, 2018
What’s your fondest memory of California?
Diana: That would be getting engaged in California. Matt proposed to me on Santa Monica beach so I would say that’s my fondest memory. But we also spent a second time doing a whole food tour across the California coast and that would probably be my fondest memory.
Having recently returned from a Cali road-trip, I can see how you fell in love. Would you say it was partially a love of food that brought you and Matt together?
Matt: Food is a very important part of our relationship. The time we have off we usually spend going out for breakfast, lunch or dinner — we love to be inspired. We take trips to cities like Montreal and New York City just to go eat, have a drink and enjoy different places. Food is very important to us. It’s part of our lives, it’s part of our extended families as well.
It’s date night in Hamilton. Where do you two go if you aren’t here at the restaurant?
Diana: We like to go to Merk on Ottawa street and Rapscallion on John Street. Those are two of our favourite places.
Matt: We really like Born and Raised, we think they do a wonderful job. There’s a great atmosphere in there, really inspired food. So those are two of our favourite places to go in the city on date night.
Let’s check off some couple goals here. You’re partners in life as well as business. How do you find that work-life balance?
Diana: Separate duties, for sure.
Matt & Diana together: Divide and conquer.
Matt: We had some good advice from couples that went into business before opening the restaurant. The best advice we got was not to step on each other’s toes. Trust each other with our talents individually and let each other run different departments.
Diana is very big into the vision of the restaurant, the marketing of the restaurant, the creation on social media. She has a lot to do with the growth of the restaurant and what you see. I focus more on the service aspect of it and the management day-to-day. The work-life balance is great because we don’t do things where we are beside each other all day, every day. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and it gets you excited to come home and see each other. Even when we have meetings with our staff, to do it together is fun. So we do have a wonderful work life balance.
You have a third member of the family now! What’s it like to add parenting into the mix of entrepreneurship?
Diana: His name is Kingston, he’s eight months old and he is hysterical. He brings a lot of joy to our family, but how has it changed the mix of owning a restaurant? Well, I’ve had to step back from the day-to-day being on the floor of Berkeley North to being on the floor with the baby. So Matt has taken more responsibility here while I do what I can from home. It would be tough to do payroll, meetings between naps, bringing the baby here when you have important meetings to do. It’s fun and it’s nice. Especially for Matt at the end of the day, having something to look forward to come home.
Matt: It’s been an adjustment because family-wise I get to see my little guy early in the mornings and then I get to see him on my days off when I get them. Diana is with him, but again it is divide and conquer. She is taking care of home life right now and I am focused on work life but we also have wonderful support networks. Family is there to help when it comes to the baby at home and we have an unbelievably talented, motivated, passionate staff at the restaurant that have picked up a lot of the slack from Diana’s responsibilities day-to-day. It allows us to continue to grow, raise a child in a happy, healthy home and continue get the business moving towards the places we want it to be.
There is such a tight-knit restaurant community here in Hamilton. As the city grows and changes, people are spending their money on unique food experiences and celebrating the chefs and dishes emerging here. But it’s still a tough business. You’ve been open for a year and a half. What have you noticed in the restaurant scene in Hamilton that is different?
Matt: Diana and I are proud to be born and raised in Hamilton. We both grew up on the West Mountain, we both went to same high school and same university– we went to McMaster together. So we have seen the evolution over the years of our lives. I couldn’t be more excited. When I grew up there were not really a ton of places to go and you didn’t really celebrate that much at the restaurants, you knew a couple good ones and usually stuck there. In the last 4-5 years, there has been a complete resurgence of the restaurant scene down here. I think it is booming. Hamilton is very lucky now, it has a wonderful scene and multiple restaurants that are doing a wonderful job. Nowhere else where I’ve ever been have I felt so much support. We do see a lot of other restaurant staff. Overall I think we are all working together. It’s better for the entire city and it’s better for the entire industry because we understand this works and all these restaurants do well. It’s about making people confident that when you come to Hamilton, whether you go to one or another restaurant, you are going to get a good dining experience. And we push, it motivates each other. When you go to a restaurant and you see things that you like, it inspires you to continue to strive to be the best restaurant that you can.
Opentable voted Berkeley North as the only Top Restaurant in Hamilton, named top 100 for all of Canada
— 900 CHML (@AM900CHML) March 23, 2018
What advice would you offer someone thinking of opening a restaurant?
Diana: I would say that you need to stay positive. It’s a long, discouraging process. Things happen that don’t go your way, but usually it’s for the better and if you can just keep a positive attitude, stick with your vision to keep plugging through– it’s all worth it in the end.
Matt: My advice would be really get a firm understanding of everything that goes into opening a restaurant. I speak to young entrepreneurs about the process of opening this restaurant and they are kind of surprised at how much there is to it. From figuring out what your product is going to be and how you will be different in a growing industry to funding for it. Finding the right location, making sure you have the right people. Also making sure you understand that it’s going to be very tough at the beginning. It takes a long time to see growth and steady business. So my advice would be understand the entire scope. Don’t rush into this. You may have a passionate front of house team of people but there is so much more to it. Understand the entire scope and then work your butt off. It’s all day, all night. And don’t get discouraged, like Diana said.
What is your favourite food item currently on the menu?
Diana: I would say right now my favourite is the shrimp toast. It’s delicious. Jon makes his bread in house. It’s the best bread I’ve ever tasted in my life and he’s done magic with the shrimp on top of it.
Matt: That’s a tough one because we do change our menu often. I have a lot of favourite dishes that have been through this restaurant, but right now the halibut by far my favourite. I think it’s amazing. We do it with this beautiful teriyaki glaze, and an edamame puree that has a beautiful silky texture. It’s cooked very subtly so you get a real good taste and texture to the fish.So the Halibut Arctic char to me is a stand out dish at the restaurant.
What should Hamilton be looking forward to this spring from Berkeley North?
Matt: Patio season! We have an intimate patio lining King William Street, as well as garage doors at the front of the restaurant that open to create an outdoor vibe inside when you can’t get a seat on the patio. So bring on the hot weather!