By Vivian Khouw

The Unintentional Restaurateur

Twenty bags of charcoal, 300 chickens and countless 50-pound bags of potatoes are the typical inventory that Charred, Mark Morgenstern’s chicken rotisserie restaurant, goes through in a week. The son of Hungarian-Jewish immigrants, Mark is an unintentional restaurateur, though his entrepreneurial spirit has a long lineage. His parents opened a store in the same spot on the same street in 1968, and Mark owned his own retail clothing business for 40 years before inspiration struck to open a restaurant after his manager mentioned that her brother could cook a good bird.

Charred was a five-year labour of love in the making. Between wading through the red tape of city hall, and convincing his brother and sister — silent partners who Mark explains thought he was “nuts” — to agree to a mortgage, “nothing was simple,” says Mark. But nothing deterred him from opening a restaurant that offered what he humbly describes as “simple and good food where everything is made in-house.”

I don’t want to make too much of a statement. I just want to serve good food and hopefully my food will speak for itself. - Mark Morgenstern, owner
Charred, Take-out, dine-in, catering, delivery, fresh BBQ chicken, sandwiches, soups, French fries

Consistently Quality Chicken

“It’s a challenge to make good chicken,” Mark says. After much research, he decided that charcoal barbecuing his butterflied chickens would yield a juicy distinctly flavoured bird. “The walls of my grill are 4 inches thick. It gets very hot,” Mark explains — so hot that his rotating baskets can barbecue over 50 chickens per hour.

Mark’s paramount concern is maintaining and serving up quality. Whether that is hiring chef Shane McCartney as a consultant, scrubbing the kitchen at 6 am daily, or calling over 50 different suppliers to find the perfect bird, there is no compromise for what has been voted as one of the city’s top places for BBQ chicken and French fries. Fries are chipped every morning, soup stock is simmered from scratch, chickens are butterflied daily and the restaurant’s popular piri-piri sauce is a secret Mark holds close. “There are no shortcuts,” he declares proudly.

Quick to praise his wife Patricia, who is by his side in the kitchen scratch-cooking the soups from her own recipes and making the sauces and dressings every day, Mark insists that he could not do it without her. When asked how a Jewish man ended up opening a Portuguese-style chicken restaurant in the heart of Little Portugal, he laughs, “Why not? It is a labour-intensive job which I never imagined was going to be so hard. But I love it.”

Charred, Take-out, dine-in, catering, delivery, fresh BBQ chicken, sandwiches, soups, French fries

Returning Full Circle

Mark insists the food he is dishing out is the best he can do. With a smaller menu, he can ensure that his inventory will always be fresh. While the restaurant has only been open since August 2013, the word-of-mouth buzz surrounding Charred humbles Mark. When he is passed on the street and is given a thumbs-up from his customers, or he’s told his food is “awesome”, he realizes that he made the right choice despite the obstacles. “It’s a fantastic feeling. I feel that this is going to be very good one day,” he says.

Charred, Take-out, dine-in, catering, delivery, fresh BBQ chicken, sandwiches, soups, French fries
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