when life in the notoriously unhealthy restaurant scene caught up to him, montreal, quebec restauranteur jonathan metcalfe began to run, and in the process led his community to a healthier place and his business to a more prosperous future.

words x mike berard & jonathan metcalfe
photos x gophrette

The life of a restaurant worker in the culinary destination of Montreal, Quebec has its alluring highlights. Big tips, late nights, and a pleasure-centric lifestyle aligned with the city’s vibrant nightlife scene add up to an occupation that often blurs the line between fun and fatigue. In the recent foodie hotspot of the Saint-Henri ‘hood, Tuck Shop is one example of the city’s food-friendly nightlife scene, and their de facto leader Jonathan Metcalfe has seen it all.

“I started as a busboy at Tuck Shop in 2010.” Says Metcalfe. “After three years, I left to start a law degree.” He stopped after three semesters. “I just wanted to work in restaurants.” He says. “I wasn’t passionate about school. Since I came back to the restaurant in 2014, I’ve been immersed in it.”

Years later, as managing partner and maître d’hôtel at Tuck Shop, Metcalfe found the late nights and chaotic lifestyle were beginning to take its toll. “I bought into the restaurant three years ago, and I’ve just been grinding.” He says. “The restaurant is my life, like five or six days and nights a week. That was kind of a cliche for hospitality management.” Like many who work in the industry, Metcalfe accepted the sacrifice to be worth it.

“I am passionate about it, but I wasn’t making time for myself.” He recalls. Despite getting his daily 10,000 steps on his Garmin—an easy task during a busy dinner service—he wasn’t exercising or eating healthy. When working late nights, the first thing to go by the wayside is the grocery list and home cooking. “When you and your staff finish work at 1:00 a.m., it’s kind of a common activity to go for a couple drinks. I was not in good shape. I definitely had put on some weight.”

And then something shifted. “The real change came in 2019.” He says. “We closed the restaurant for three weeks for massive renovations. Two of my partners were about to have a child so they strong armed me to take a holiday while we were closed.” Metcalfe took a ski vacation to Fernie, B.C. While there, Metcalfe collided with a lift tower and “just blew up my knee.” With both PCL and LCL replacements, and a host of other injuries, he returned to Montreal completely broken and feeling worse than ever.

“When I went for surgery, my surgeon told me ‘you gotta lose weight.’” He says. ‘It’ll be better for your knee. But also, you know you’re 32 now. You’re not in your ‘20s.’ It was very difficult emotionally. I was in a pretty dark place.”

And then he spun out.

“I went to an outdoor spin class at B.Cycle in Montreal.” He says. “I immediately fell in love with it.” Metcalfe quickly committed to going five times a week. The studio’s flexible schedule helped make the transition smooth for a stressed-out restaurant worker. “I was only able to do that because B.cycle have classes at noon. You can sneak it into our schedule, even if you’ve gone to bed at like 2:00 a.m.”

As Metcalfe healed and cycled—and eventually started running his heart out—he expected to get stronger. What he didn’t expect was to become a catalyst for his staff and friends, who were soon following Metcalfe’s example in getting active. “That late-at-night behavior is so contagious. In the beginning, some people tease you a little bit, but slowly but surely [they join you] …it’s an inspiring position to be in.” he says.

The majority of Tuck Shop now runs together, and the benefits go far beyond the physical. “Their confidence is through the roof.” He says. “Everyone’s stamina increased. You want every client, whether they’re in at 5:00pm or 10:30pm to have the same great service, and that’s been easier to achieve with all the extracurricular training. We are even seeing the correlations to our sales, especially before Covid-19, when we were spinning and running together.”

Where to next?  Part of the Tuck Shop team is training for an unofficial Half Ironman event alongside some industry peers, restaurant patrons and B.Cycle instructors. “We were supposed to compete in the Half Ironman in Maine, but with that being canceled we’ve organized our own event based out of a friend’s cottage. I think there’s about 12 of us that are ‘competing.’” After that, he’ll run his first ultramarathon in Bromont, QC, in the 55-kilometre distance alongside chef Andrew Hochhalter from Cordova Coffee and Cocktail Bar, which is located next to Tuck Shop. And the momentum continues. Metcalfe is witnessing a movement in the Saint-Henri neighbourhood. “There’s a wine bar down the street from us—Bar Loïc—and their ownership team has been into marathon training for a while, but you’ve seen it spread through their staff and to their circle of friends, to our whole block even.”

Throughout North American cities, a handful of forward-thinking run clubs are servicing the service industry by hosting runs that fall outside the traditional early morning/late night slots which are difficult for bartenders and servers to make happen. It’s not an easy task to motivate the average person to lace ‘em up and sweat in the first place. In an industry and environment where unhealthy decisions are regularly within an arm’s reach, run clubs like Metcalfe’s are progressive. The end result is happier people.

“It’s a great thing to be a part of.” He says. “People can commit to self-improvement through physical activity. And now it’s just another commonality within our community. I think we have a better culture. It’s been a game changer on so many levels.”