Maria DaRosa has served the Dufferin-Lawrence area family-style Portuguese cooking for over a decade

DaRosa Café & Restaurant is a staple to the Marketo District Business Improvement Area, owner Maria DaRosa has served the community for 13 years.

Maria DaRosa is no stranger to working in the food service industry. Born in Portugal, she only completed a grade three level education as it was all that was needed at the time and she had to help out on the family farm.

DaRosa’s Cafe & Restaurant Exterior

From the age of 16, she waitressed and helped out in kitchens in Portugal. In 1986, 19-year-old Maria immigrated to Canada where she worked as a nanny for a brief period of time until she went back to her roots working at several restaurants in the Portuguese community in Toronto. She also worked in a banquet hall for a few years.      

Before owning the restaurant, she worked at a convent as the kitchen manager creating meals for the nuns. DaRosa worked there for many years serving mostly Canadian food until the management of the convent was taken over by a larger company and positions were downsized.

DaRosa’s outside patio

After contemplating working for the new company and getting paid less money, she decided to leave to spend more time with her children who were 12 and seven at the time.

One day while driving down Dufferin Street, she saw the building at the corner of Dufferin Street and Glencairn Avenue was for sale.

“I thought, ‘why not try?’” said DaRosa. “If I’m going to work for somebody else, I’m gonna work weekends but if I work for myself, I’m gonna work weekends and this way I would have the flexibility to take my kids to their things.”

Inside of DaRosa’s dining room

She convinced her husband to remortgage their house and buy the building and DaRosa’s Café & Restaurant began.  

DaRosa opened her restaurant in February 2007 but it was a difficult journey in the beginning as she had bills to pay and didn’t know many people in the area. With time, the business spread through word of mouth and she began seeing customers come back for a second or third visit.

“It’s a big satisfaction to see that this is something right and then you know you have an established clientele,” said DaRosa.

DaRosa’s hot table menu

She follows the same standard of cooking now that she did when she first opened the restaurant 13 years ago: quality home cooking. DaRosa also enjoys baking a lot.

According to DaRosa, learning how to properly cook Portuguese food is a process. She said you have to enjoy being in the kitchen to do it.

Mastering a perfectly cooked barbecue chicken takes time, said DaRosa. It can quickly go from being juicy and succulent cooked meat to becoming dry and overcooked.

Barbecue chicken is arguably the most popular Portuguese dish and not surprisingly, is something a lot of people at DaRosa’s Café & Restaurant enjoy. DaRosa said people seem to be eating less red meat and chicken is a more affordable kind of protein and of course, it tastes delicious.

Portuguese custard tarts

The meals served at DaRosa’s Café & Restaurant are convenient for busy families who may be rushing home from work after 6 pm and struggle to figure out what to have for dinner that night.

DaRosa said it’s easy to get a chicken with some rice, a little bit of salad and potatoes because it’s very affordable and it’s also good food. 

Before the pandemic, DaRosas biggest worry was not having enough space to serve all of the people who come to the restaurant. 

“That was one of my biggest challenges, not having enough parking outside and having the small dining room but we just have to do the best we can every day,” she explained.

Wednesday, March 18 was the first day of the lockdown, DaRosa recalled it as ‘a very dark day.’ Most businesses were closed but DaRosa’s Café & Restaurant remained open due to their established take-out service, however their normal business was down to 25 per cent. Orders for catered lunches and family gatherings had stopped since everyone was staying at home.

The hot table at DaRosa’s Cafe & Restaurant

May, which would usually be a very busy month in business for DaRosa due to Mother’s Day, first communions, prom and weddings was heavily affected by COVID-19, but she had to adapt her business the best way she could.

Maria DaRosa celebrated her 55th birthday on Aug. 26. She said owning and operating a small business means most days she works 14 to 16 hour days.

“When you get to 55, then you start thinking of your plans,” she said.  “Maybe in a few years you want to sell the business and slow down a little bit. At the same time, I don’t know if I could just leave without the everyday noise of the place and the people and the commotion.”

Interior of DaRosa’s Cafe & Restaurant

DaRosa said she is happiest when everyone comes to work, no one has burned themselves and all of her customers leave the restaurant happy with their bellies full.

“At the end of the day, that’s the satisfaction and the thrill of everything besides the financial part [and] that you make a living from there,” she said.

DaRosa welcomes and encourages anyone who has not yet tried the food to come and enjoy delicious Portuguese cuisine at a very affordable price.