“Toronto Life” — You and your brothers Paul and Donnie recently opened a Wahlburgers on Blue Jays Way. There are already one million burger joints in this city. What sets a Wahlburger patty apart?
Wow, I dunno. I haven’t visited all one million. In fact, I don’t know anything about the competition. But I do know that my brother Paul is an absolute rock star in the kitchen. It’s one thing to have a celebrity name to draw people in, but it’s his food that keeps people coming back.
What is it about the food?
They’re really, really good burgers. We have the basics, and Paul, Donnie and I each have our own signature creations, but we have mushroom and salmon burgers, too. It’s a pretty extensive menu.
The original Wahlburgers is in Boston. Why did you choose Toronto for your first expansion site?
It’s a great place to test the waters. If a film does well at TIFF, it stands a great chance of being successful around the world. I think the same is true of restaurants. It’s a cutting-edge city with a lot of cool people. If you can make it in Toronto, you can make it anywhere.
Last year you called Toronto the “most interesting city in the world.” Can you share a Mark-Wahlberg-in-Toronto anecdote, so we know you’re not just buttering us up?
Oh, trust me, I’ve had some very interesting and very crazy times in Toronto. My first time at the film festival was with Boogie Nights, and that was a very special occasion. Shooting my first movie in Toronto, The Big Hit, was special, too.
Interesting, though technically not an anecdote…
Ha, well, you know, Toronto sort of saved my life. On 9/11, I was in Boston and was planning to fly back to L.A. the next day, but a friend was having an event at the film festival, so we decided instead to fly to Toronto that day. And of course the next morning, we woke up and saw the coverage. I turns out I would’ve been on American Airlines flight 11, which crashed into the north tower.
What are your favourite Toronto haunts?
Roots co-founder Michael Budman’s backyard. Sotto Sotto, which is a great restaurant. Yorkville in nice weather. Harbour Sixty—owner Ted Nikolaou is the best. That’s almost a European experience. St. Basil’s Cathedral—I go every Sunday when I’m in town.
Word got out awhile ago that you bought a condo at 36 Hazelton in Yorkville, but I’ve heard conflicting reports.
I did not buy one. I was interested and was in negotiations and got close, but in the end it just didn’t work out.
Might that change?
I would love to buy a place in Toronto. Right now I’m trying to partner with Mitch Goldhar, the owner of SmartCentres, to reopen Toronto’s Eastern Studios. I’d love to bring back as much business as I can to Canada.
Wahlburgers, the behind-the-scenes TV series on A&E, was recently nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy in the Unstructured Reality Program category, but it lost out to Deadliest Catch. Do you have a message for those seafaring bastards?
No, other than I’ve been on a swordfish-fishing boat and I admire those guys. That’s one of those occupations that doesn’t get enough appreciation or credit. They risk their lives, and most people who sit down to enjoy a swordfish or lobster or crab don’t really know the extent of what’s gone on.
You’ve talked about adding a Toronto burger to the Wahlburgers menu to “reflect what goes on in Toronto.” What does go on in Toronto?
Torontonians have always found a balance between working really hard and having a lot of fun. Somehow, they figure it out.
And how would that balance manifest in a burger?
When it comes to the menu, you have to discuss that with Paul. I don’t interfere with the food.
You’ve filmed four movies in the GTA. When are you coming back?
No immediate plans, but I hope it happens soon. I’ve got a lot of great memories and friendships, and I think Toronto inspires me to push a lot of American cities to clean up their acts.
Aw, shucks. Wait—you promise you’re not just buttering us up?