Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thirty Years Of Tino Fazio: Still Going Strong

The Beginings
I remember when I first met Tino Fazio. At that time I was working as a counsellor for the Canada Manpower Centre (one name in many incarnations) in Oshawa, Ontario, which was a Federal Agency designed to help the unemployed find work but was actually one of the best all purpose social agencies that ever existed and succeeded very well at doing what dozens of agencies now try to do-----help people in various forms of distress.
One of my assignments was to obtain some job orders from employers and there was one new employer in town. The business was Fazio's Ristorante and the owner was a fellow called Tino Fazio.
I went down to the corner of Simcoe and Athol Streets and walked in. It was late afternoon and the business was not yet open for business. There was a huddle of chairs/tables in one corner and a batch of tablecloths in another. The bar was empty but there was a noise emanating from within the bar. I called out!
I heard a rapid shuffle and out popped the head of a man, head wrapped with a cloth and full of a cornucopia of dust, drywall and paint. He quickly stood up and brushed off his shorts. I could see that he did not want to be disturbed. He looked at me in a sleepy sort of way and said, "What you want! We not open yet! You from the health inspection?"
I explained that I was from Manpower as it was commonly known and that I had come to answer his job request.
"You got someone for me!"
I said, I need to take an order first and get a job description.
"Why you no bring someone. You don't need a description. I know what I want."
We talked for about five minutes or so before Tino gave me an idea of what he wanted----just to get rid of me. As I left he said, "You no come back until you bring somebody!"
He then went back underneath the bar.
Some time later I came back with a list of names. I entered and called. Tino came---this time from the kitchen---still covered with dust, drywall and paint albeit new!
"You get someone?"
"I have some names!"
"Lemme see!"
"Here, I give to you so you see!" I replied.
Tino made a glaring look at me and with one eye closed and the other open he came up to me and said, "You maka fun of my accent?" He pointed to the door.
I realized that I had unintentionally made a boo boo. Sometimes one gets caught up with someone else's way of speaking. I definitely made a boo boo.
I said I was sorry but Tino was rushing me out of his business and I thought out of my job when I accidentally bumped into one of his bottles of wine. It was a Barolo Vina Rosa from the '70's and a truly great wine.
I quickly picked it up and apologized feeling great relief that I did not break it! It was worth a fortune even in those days. I told him what a great wine that was and was sorry I bumped into it.
"You know about wine?" he asked, somewhat slowing the pace out to the door.
"Yes, I collect it and that is a great wine," I replied.
Tino stopped, "I gonna have much wine here! You really like wine. Tell me about this!"
I explained a couple of things about the bottle and the vineyard. He smiled, took his hand off my shoulder and backed away. "Want something to drink, eat---I was just about to have something light---maybe pasta!"
So the friendship began and has endured---for over 30 years. That year was 1979.
Tino Fazio
Illuminato Tindaro Fazio came to Canada from his native Sicily in the early 1960's. In Italy he was a tour bus operator, soldier, vineyard owner, cement mason and bricklayer. In Canada he was a meat cutter, bread man, pizza store owner and construction specialist. He found his niche at Fazio's a place that bears his name and is now a family run business.
When Tino came to Oshawa, the area was basically a meat and potatoes/beer drinking community. Wine was just an insignificant diversion and fine dining was restricted to a very few.
The selection of wine in most restaurants was a basic four or five types of wine---all very common and not especially challenging.
Tino, single handed changed all that with his enthusiasm and unending energy. He used his good sense and knowledge of wine and food to establish almost a dynasty of good food and good wine and good service. He gave to the community as much as it gave him.
He has much to thank this community but it has just as much to thank him.
Tino The Creator
Fazio's Ristorante grew and became extremely popular. Whether you were a television actor, sports celebrity, news reporter, politician or regular working person, if you lived within Durham Region or travelled from the big city, your presence at some point would grace the dining lounge of this restaurant.
Its wine cellar became renowned as far as Toronto and New York. Fazio's made the pages of Toronto Life Magazine and was peaked the interest of the Wine Spectator. People came from far and wine to see Tino, the restaurant and the wine cellar in that order. It was always Tino first.
The restaurant and cellar (13,000 bottles) are still there as is Tino (although he has forwarded some of his duties to his family---son Nicholas, daughter Rosaleen and son-in-law Martin Polidano. People still keep on coming asking the familiar question---"Where's Tino?"
Tino and Me!
I personally have much to thank this man who I came to consider as being more of a brother than a friend. Tino made sure that I was invited to the wine tastings and that I met the agents involved. He help me create two television series which were pertinent in establishing my credentials in the field and Tino made sure that I knew about what was going on in the community.
"The Wine Companions" was the first production that we made together with Rubin Benmurgui. It was done in collaboration with Peter Mielzynski Agencies and was an immediate success. As usual Tino was the hit of the party with his Italian accent, humour and knowledge of wine/food. This was followed with "Winedining" with Carol Smith and later with many appearances at the Rogers Studio.
Throughout the years, Mr. Fazio has remained a close and welcoming friend. His passion still is as strong today as it was back in 1979. Mr. Fazio is a man who has earned my respect and undying gratitude for the great things that he made me experience. The greatest experience has been just knowing him and calling him friend.
Tino, congratulations on your 30th Anniversary Celebration!

Fazio's Ristorante
33 Simcoe Street South (at Athol)
Oshawa, Ontario