Matty Matheson has fed the world. Now he wants to dress it.
“I love clothing,” Mr. Matheson said over Zoom on his phone sitting in the front seat of his truck, the only place the father of three could find a quiet spot to talk on a recent summer morning. “As a big dude, I have found that clothing has given me a lot of self-esteem. And finding your own style, it really feels good.”
The 40-year-old Canadian chef and food personality, who described himself as a “fat, sweaty dude covered in tattoos,” is best known as an outlandish cook who’s spun his Falstaffian gusto and decadent recipes into an empire that encompasses restaurants, cookbooks, YouTube shows, cookware and merchandise. Now he’s taking his love of clothing as inspiration to launch his latest venture called Rosa Rugosa, a small, hyper-focused line of workwear.
“The idea was to make the new UPS uniforms — or nurses, chefs, dentists, farmers,” Mr. Matheson said. “You know, tradespeople — workwear.”
The idea for Rosa Rugosa (named after a native Canadian rose that grows in rocky terrain) first came to him in 2017 and shortly afterward he connected with the designer Ray Natale, who, Mr. Matheson said, “smokes a lot of cigs, he’s skinny, he loves car racing and he’s one of those guys who doesn’t have a bad bone in his body.”
The line currently consists of a short and long-sleeve shirt, shorts and pants, a few hats and an apron. It ranges in price from $50 for a trucker cap to $175 for a long-sleeve shirt, mostly is made from a heavy cotton and double-stitched and comes in a wide range of sizes. The idea is to keep the selection tight, sell directly to consumers and avoid the hype and drops that fuel other brands.
Mr. Matheson knows that, like a well-made dish, a great piece of clothing isn’t necessarily the flashiest or most intricate — in fact, oftentimes the opposite is true.
“In my mind, what is important is making basics,” he said, peppering his garrulous chatter with plenty of choice expletives for emphasis. “Things that can let you shine and let you be who you are without putting, like, NASCAR stickers on it. It’s not about the brand. I want Rosa Rugosa to be about you. I want anyone to be able to wear it and do their thing, and that’s it.”
Growing up, Mr. Matheson got into the metal, punk and hard-core music scenes, which have cast a long shadow over his personal aesthetic. He name-checked late-1980s youth crew subculture, and the band Poison Idea, as early touchstones. “I always kind of dress like an ’80s wrestler when they dressed normal,” he said. “Like, a fanny pack, high-waisted jeans, a tank top and a trucker hat. Those things look good.”
Mr. Matheson didn’t grow up cooking. He enrolled in a Toronto culinary school for two reasons: It was an excuse to move to the city, and it was the only program that accepted him. There he found an aptitude for the profession, but dropped out before graduating, to follow some friends in a metal band as they went on tour.
In the Kitchen With ‘The Bear”
The acclaimed FX series follows a world-class chef who returns home to run his family’s sandwich shop after his older brother’s suicide.
Afterward, he refined his technique while working his way up the Toronto restaurant food chain at beloved local establishments like Le Sélect Bistro and La Palette. He was a big personality with big talent housed in a big body — a charismatic host who burned bright. Success came, but he lived hard, indulging in drugs and alcohol. At the age of 29 he suffered a heart attack and a few months later sobered up.
Throughout this time, he built a relationship with Vice, the rebellious media company, hosting online videos and then, after those performed well, the shows “Keep It Canada,” “Dead Set on Life” and “It’s Suppertime!” His charisma paired with his infectious love of cooking and eating made him an irresistible — and unexpected — celebrity.
“Matty has an infectious personality,” says musician and producer Benny Blanco, with whom he hosts the cheekily titled YouTube series “Matty and Benny Eat Out America.” “The second you meet him you feel like he’s your best friend. He exudes perfect best friend energy.”
Mr. Blanco understands why Mr. Matheson’s style has hit a nerve. “I like Matty’s style because he’s not afraid to be himself,” he said. “A lot of people follow trends and try to be something they aren’t. I also love that he does high-low. He’ll wear a pair of sunglasses that cost way too much money with a shirt that has a coffee stain on it, but it looks cooler than anyone else’s clothes and like it was meant to be there. He’s a true individual.”
The last few years have been good to Mr. Matheson, but a shift occurred at the beginning of the pandemic, when weeks of paid appearances and other in-person events dried up overnight. “I was only playing 50 percent of the game,” he said. “And it was very scary and very humbling, coming to the realization that I wasn’t self-sufficient.” Since that time he’s focused on building a business around his magnetic way of cooking and dressing. He’s no longer merely a hired gun for others, but has jumped into creating and owning his output.
All of this operates out of the Parkdale neighborhood in Toronto, where he has an office and a small studio where he shoots many of his YouTube videos. Now the office also houses the machinery to cut and sew the Rosa Rugosa line, which is run by six employees. Mr. Matheson bought the machinery from a factory he was planning on working with, but the pandemic forced them to close. Now he’s able to pop in to see the collection as it’s being made.
Mr. Matheson’s love of Canada runs deep. He grew up in Fort Erie, Ontario, just on the other side of the border from Buffalo, and he, his wife and three children still live there today. With a partner, he grows produce nearby at Blue Goose Farm, which services his restaurants; the no-frills barbeque spot Matty Matheson’s Meat + Three is located there as well.
All in, Mr. Matheson oversees five restaurants (his barbeque spot, the upscale Prime Seafood Palace, the hamburger-centric Matty’s Patty’s Burger Club, pho and banh mi sandwiches at Cà Phê Rang and Fonda Balam, a Mexican joint), stars in three YouTube shows in various states of production, has written two cookbooks and has a line of kitchen tools.
“We’ve built this kind of machine, you know? We built this world,” Mr. Matheson said. “We start these businesses, we’ve put really great people in place, and then we’re just working with them.”
Another big lift to Mr. Matheson’s profile came earlier this summer with the unexpected hit TV show, FX’s “The Bear,” which follows a fine dining chef who takes over his brother’s Italian sandwich shop in Chicago after he dies. Mr. Matheson has long known the show’s creator, Christopher Storer, who asked him to serve as a co-producer and culinary lead alongside Mr. Storer’s sister, Courtney; he was also offered a small role not as a chef, but the beleaguered handyman Neil Fak.
“It’s just one of those things where I’m trying to give them what they need,” he said. “You know, we’re working with props and set dec and the actors, just like, ‘Hey you wouldn’t say it like that’ or ‘The way you’re holding the pan is kinda wack.’ And the amazing thing is by the end of the season, the actors would be like, ‘Yo, where’s my knife?’”
“I think a big part of the show working is directly because of Matty and Courtney’s involvement,” Mr. Storer wrote in an email. “Matty’s been through it. He’s seen every peak and every valley of small business. He was prepping his new restaurant as we were shooting so we had a direct line into what the chaos of opening a restaurant can be.
“There isn’t a pretentious bone in his body,” Mr. Storer added. “He’s honest and kind and loud and genuine and thoughtful. It’s rare to find somebody so naturally gifted at taking care of people.”
And what were Mr. Matheson’s expectations for the show? “The best thing about this whole thing is that not a single person thought it was going to hit,” he said. “I was like, ‘Well, get ready for everyone in the industry to hate us!’ But we were all having fun. We thought maybe it would be an indie thing. And everyone on set was hanging out together the whole time, and they all kept saying, ‘This isn’t how it usually is, Matty.’”
“I think the reason why people love it,” he continued, “is that everyone comes from brokenness. Everyone has a family, knows someone running a small business. Carmy’s brother killed himself, didn’t even go to his funeral, won’t talk to his mother, there’s no love interest on the show, not even a kiss. That’s not what usually makes a hit show. But it’s about being human. And life on life’s terms. Life sucks, life is heavy, it’s uncompromising, and it’s about how you deal with it every day. And this show is them trying to do that.”
“The Bear” has been greenlit for a second season, but at the moment, Mr. Matheson is focused on Rosa Rugosa. His favorite thing about the brand? It’s made in Canada; it’s built to last and wear in over time (he’s particularly proud that the pants not only have double-knees, but a reinforced butt to increase their longevity); and it’s offered in a wide size range.
“I tailor all my stuff,” he said. “You know, I have a big belly, and I want a crop shirt. I want it like a square because when I order a four-XL, it goes down to my knees. So we’re creating that kind of shirt. As a big guy, I’m stoked to make clothes that will fit different types of people and allow them to tailor it how they want. I’m glad that we’re making clothes that are large. I mean, I’m being a little selfish in that respect. Like, this one’s for all my big people — my fatties, my chubbies, my big dogs.”