Johnny Katsuras, one of Toronto’s most accomplished restaurateurs, passes away
Later days: Leslieville, seen here, was an epicentre for much of Johnny K’s culinary work
With a few exceptions, you may have never heard the name “Johnny K” during your Toronto dining life. Chances are good that you’ve heard of at least a couple of his restaurants, though.
And there have been many. Since 1978, twenty-two restaurants have named Johnny K—short for Johnny Katsuras—as either owner, co-owner, manager or proprietor, or more often than not an amalgam of a few. Like a culinary Wizard of Oz, Katsuras worked tirelessly throughout his career behind the great, towering curtain of Toronto nightlife, always steering, always full of ideas. Thirty-six years later, the Riverdale and Leslieville districts of Hogtown, in particular, bear the Katsuras stamp in striking historic ways.
But early this week, cancer brought that decades-long labour of culinary love to an end for Katsuras.
Beginning in 1978, Katsuras first set about making his local presence known as owner and proprietor of the Queen Street Eatery; years later, the eponymous Johnny K would also find him filling that role. A look at his long, detailed record of accomplishments over three full decades is almost dizzying, painting the portrait of a man for whom multi-tasking, it seems, was a way of life. At various points, he would even wear the leadership hat for a few venues simultaneously—no less than a Herculean task, as anyone with restaurant experience knows.
The late ‘80s and early ‘90s, especially, were particularly busy years for the culinary and business mastermind. At The Claremont, Van Halen Cafe, The Liberty, King Curtis Room and 4th and 5th, for example—closed establishments today, but historical reminders of his work—Katsuras would hold down the mantle of owner and proprietor from 1989 until 1990, all at the same time. It was a transformative time for Toronto, a decade after waterfront improvements transformed downtown and a few short years after CityTV, for one, gave our city a renewed public face. You might be tempted to think that the late-‘80s entertainment explosion in Toronto was all his idea. If nothing else, he was a part of it, sleeves rolled up and invested—both financially and personally—in the changing face of T.O.