Jacobs & Co. isn’t your average steakhouse.
The Toronto restaurant, helmed by Chef Danny McCallum, has adapted the genre’s classics to guests who are more informed and conscious than ever before. The daily-changing steak menu features cuts from Alberta and Nebraska to Japan, traced down to the last detail, while an acclaimed dry-aging program produces an incredible range of flavors and textures.
But according to Danny, it’s the hospitality, not just the food, that sets Jacobs & Co. apart. Educating guests about meat, guiding their decisions, and being wholly knowledgeable about every single aspect of the restaurant is paramount. “We go over and above for every guest that comes in here,” he says.
We talked to Danny to dive into the details of what makes Jacobs & Co. an entirely new steakhouse experience — here are five ways he’s shaking up tradition.
Make steak part of the show.
“From the minute you come into Jacobs, you’re greeted by this giant wall of meat,” says Danny. “That’s our dry-aging room, right in the dining room.”
When the restaurant first opened, the team debated over whether to put the wine cellar or the dry-aging room in the dining room and decided on the latter. The result is a stunning display of cuts from all over the world, placed in the center of the room for guests to see. It’s a way to create a dialogue with guests about the extensive aging program and the team’s unique approach to the food.
Reimagine your menu.
At Jacobs & Co., the steak menu reads more like a wine list than a traditional restaurant menu. On a given day, Danny’s team will offer as many as 60 different steaks, from 10 to 15 different regions from around the world — featuring two or three ages of each one, plus a variety of cuts. They print a new menu every day so steaks can be added to the list as they’re ready.
“The terroir and the providence of each piece of meat is very strong in our philosophy,” says Danny. “We have the region where it’s from; the ‘vintage’; how old it is and how long we’ve been dry-aging it; and the ‘grape variety,’ which would be the particular cut of meat that we are serving.”
Know your product.
Danny works with many small farmers, some who bring him only two or three animals a year. But the small production enables him to have full traceability into the lives of the animals. He knows exactly where the cows came from, what they ate, what breed they were, their hide color, their weight, the field they grew up on, and even their noseprints.
When working with new ranchers, Danny will often drive out to their farms to see the animals and talk to the farmers. Then, they’ll bring their meat into the restaurant for a taste test. He estimates that he talks to five farmers every month who bring him product he does not accept because the quality isn’t high enough.
“There are only so many people who do what we do. People want to be associated with the very best and showcase their product.”
After the product comes into the restaurant, Danny and his team tag it thoroughly before hanging it in the aging room. They list the cut, breed, grade (which often they have to determine themselves), and two dates: the date they received it in the restaurant and the process date, or kill date. They monitor the meat constantly over the course of the aging process, since meats from different regions age at different rates. When they decide it’s ready, they’ll pull it from the room and list it on the menu for that night.
“I’ll literally go in the meat room and tap the meat; I’ll listen to it, I’ll pick it up, I’ll smell it, I’ll squeeze it as hard as I can to feel its firmness and how it’s going to be right in the middle. I can tell if that that piece is going to be a tender, delicious piece of meat for that particular night.”
Serve only the best.
Danny prides himself on having something for everyone. His menu covers the spectrum of types of meat, from fully grain-fed and -finished animals to pure grass-fed and -finished ones, including everything in between. Ultimately, whatever the style, he’s looking for the very best example of that particular kind of meat: the best Wagyu, the best grass-fed, the best grain-fed.
“It used to be just a matter of, you buy a cow, you raise it semi-humanely and gently and healthily, and hopefully turn around and sell it,” he says. “Now people need to set themselves apart, and farmers are really taking things to the next level. Some farmers are feeding their animals apples from the apple farmer next door, and that meat has a particular flavor and therefore particular selling points. They’re getting quite savvy to it.”
When it comes to building the menu, he also balances fresh cuts with ones that are aged (up to six months!) to accommodate all guests’ tastes.
Train your staff & read your guests.
Because of the huge variety of steaks on the menu at Jacobs & Co., the staff has to be extremely knowledgeable in order to answer questions and help guests make decisions. The service component is a huge part of the restaurant’s success.
Since Jacobs is sourcing from so many different small farms, there’s no guarantee that the same steak a guest ordered last week will be on the menu again this week. That’s OK with Danny. He hopes guests will try something new and will like it just as much, but he doesn’t feel a need to guarantee a certain supply. Plus, working with the small farms enables him to have a tremendous amount of diversity on the menu at all times.
“I just want people to be aware of what’s out there in the meat world — it’s not all just one kind of ribeye,” says Danny. “You could sit down and have 10 different ribeyes off of our menu in one night and find very unique differences between each one.”
And what sets great servers apart, he says, is the ability to judge a guest. If a guest knows what he wants the minute he sits down, there’s no reason to argue with him. But if someone is interested in learning more, then the server has to be ready to walk through each region on the menu and help that person figure out what they want. It’s also critical to make sure guests aren’t intimidated or overwhelmed by the menu, so the team needs to explain and describe the items in a way that feels welcoming and accessible. Most people, Danny says, are curious and conscious about what they’re eating and want to know more — the old-school “I just want to eat meat” mentality isn’t the reality.
“It’s amazing, the questions we get asked. It makes my job a lot harder, but that’s great. It’s for the better.”