sugo toronto

Popular Toronto restaurant called out for making customer uncomfortable with fat jokes

A Toronto restaurant that's become known as a go-to spot to grab a some classic Italian American fare in a good-vibes environment is in hot water this week after a Google Review painted a picture of a very uncomfortable customer experience.

A young woman gave the popular Sugo one star out of five after dining there last week, not because of the quality of the food, but because of some very inappropriate comments she received from a staff member.

"The staff at Sugo are really strange," Elena Rubi wrote on Friday before going on to reveal the reasoning behind this assessment: "My server was making fat jokes towards me regarding my order and while I was eating."

An owner from the restaurant responded to the review same-day, but rather than remedy the situation, they seemed to try and justify it in a way that many online are saying simply made things worse.

"If you look back on our 1,000+ reviews you will see people writing about our great staff and the fun nature of our restaurant. We didn't receive these by insulting our guests, but by bringing them in on the fun," they wrote.

"The server was having fun with you and nothing was ever meant to be insulting; in fact, I'm sure it was meant to be endearing. Obviously, it missed the mark."

Rubi soonafter added an addendum to her review, asking readers to witness the response below for an example of "not taking accountability for making a young woman uncomfortable by talking about her larger body."

Sugo has since deleted their reply and replaced it with a short sentence simply asking Rubi to reach out, as they would "love to start a dialogue."

But, the damage has already been done. And as a woman who, like many, struggles with eating issues, the comments the server made were hard for this writer to imagine hearing while trying to enjoy a meal.

"His comments were hurtful," Rubi tells blogTO, adding that, like most of us, she gained a bit of weight over the course of COVID-19 lockdowns and is still trying to feel okay in her new shape.

She says that her server first made remarks about what she and her friend decided to order, noting that her dining partner's choice of a salad before a pasta dish was "heavy and light, I like that," while Rubi's decision to try out two of the restaurant's most renowned entrees — a pasta and the chicken parmesan — was "heavy and heavy."

"You've got a big appetite!" he continued.

At another point in the meal, when the server returned to check how everything was going, he decided to comment on how much Rubi had eaten: "Wow, look at you. Looks like I'm going to have to roll you out of here!"

The jokes didn't exactly make the young nurse feel great about herself, and didn't make her experience of a restaurant she was looking forward to visiting a good one. So, she wrote a review.

"I was upset and I didn't want to keep quiet about what happened to me. Not thinking anything of it, the owner just replied and gaslit me about my experience, and never really apologized," she says.

As diet culture and beauty standards maintain their pervasive hold and tens of millions of people in the U.S. and Canada suffer from eating disorders, trying to maintain a healthy relationship with food in a world where this seems impossible is certainly not helped by such offhand comments.

One would be hard-pressed to find a young person in Toronto that doesn't know someone with food issues or a full-blown disorder, if they don't have these issues themselves.

Adding in the pressures of recent weight gain, eating in a public space, and a spot known for serving large portions of pasta, no less? Not ideal timing for such comments, even if they were made lightheartedly and in jest. (As if there would ever be a good time for them.) Not to mention the fact that they just seem... unnecessary? They're quips your typical middle-aged dad who doesn't know what body image issues even are may find funny, but not a young woman.

"As a 20-something-year-old in today's generation, it's always been hard to be truly comfortable in your own skin," Rubi notes. "It wasn't helpful that a stranger made such an inappropriate comment about my appearance and dug into a deep insecurity of mine."

Sugo's owners have encountered drama with Google Reviews in the past, including in 2019, when they were criticized for publicly making fun of negative feedback, which they said was part of their efforts to "try to create laughter" and engage with customers.

"We were unaware of the incident until the review was posted... and the server did not intend to offend the guest in any way," owner Alex Wallen says, adding that he tried to make this latter point in his initial response to the review.

"In hindsight, this was a tone-deaf response where no responsibility was taken on my behalf. I should have offered an apology right away. I never intended to shirk responsibility and we, as a business, certainly never meant to hurt anyone," he says.

"We are so happy to have people back in our dining room and we're heart broken that someone had such a negative experience."

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns

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