Matty Matheson's latest venture isn't a cookbook or a cutting-edge restaurant. It's a workwear brand, even though owning his own clothing line hasn't been a lifelong dream of his, the star chef and potent personality says. He calls the kitchen home: Matheson plays host to a number of YouTube-based cooking shows but also owns several restaurants, his own cast iron pan and cutting board brand, Matheson Cookware, and a farm in Fort Erie, Ontario called Blue Goose Farm, a tribute to his late grandfather's Prince Edward Island restaurant of the same name.
In an era where everyone is eager to call themselves one, Matheson is a true multi-hyphenate. But he doesn't do anything half-assed, which is why his books regularly rank on the New York Times best-sellers list, Architectural Digest is hosting tours of his restaurants and we're, well, here talking to him about his new workwear brand, Rosa Rugosa, which he co-founded with designer Ray Natale. However, the duo did more than simply co-sign on a studio space or lend their initials to an order sheet.
They went all-in: When the pandemic shuttered their chosen factory partner, they bought their machinery and rebuilt the factory line in Parkdale, Matheson's Toronto neighborhood. At first, after months of just sending spec sheets, waiting a few weeks and then inspecting samples, they were unsure if they could put together a team and truly turn a stack of old machines into a functioning business.
"Everything is scary, especially now... and not being afraid to learn is the scariest thing, right? You need to be able to learn how to do things. Is running a factory the same as opening a restaurant? No, but there are similarities," Matheson says. "There's been quite a learning curve, but that speaks to what Rosa is and what I want Rosa to be about... We're ragtag, and we're doing this ourselves."
And what does that look like? Well, stylish workwear with a culinary slant and an inclusive sizing scale. Rosa Rugosa shirts run true to size, meaning you must check your measurements before ordering from the corresponding list of alpha sizes: small through XXXXL. As for pants and shorts, waist sizes span from 28 to 52.
"[Workwear] has always been one of those things that fit me well," Matheson says, so he made sure Rosa Rugosa would fit a wide range of bodies and situations, like kitchens, hospitals and so on and so forth. These pieces were built to be worn to work, wherever that is, but it functions as everyday attire, too, for fans of workwear brands like Carhartt, Dickies or Ben Davis Clothing.
Plus, with Matheson and Natale at the helm, the Rosa Rugosa factory is a great place to work: They were able to guarantee a set of workplace standards often unmet by other companies. Sewers are paid well above a living wage and offered paid lunches and other perks, like health benefits. (Things that seem standard but are rarely offered, especially in this industry.)
And it'll always be this way, Matheson guarantees, even as small-scale local manufacturing becomes pricier and pricier with each passing day. "Rosa Rugosa isn't going to become this thing that has 250 SKUs," he explains. Right now, the brand sells five styles — the Gwynne Shirt, Gwynne Pants, Dunn Shirt, Dunn Shorts and Gardiner Trucker Hat — but that number will jump to six or seven by the end of this year. They won't be limited collab T-shirts or fast-tracked logo tote bags, but chore coats and double-knee work pants — things that fit in with the existing collection.
Matheson doesn't want to "overthink things," he says. "[We want to] make our things the best we can, stay small and grow... If we can just stay small and keep doing what we're doing, I think it'll be a good company, and it'll stay true to what we want it to be."
And where they want it to be, Matheson says. Although a large portion of Rosa Rugosa's audience is here in the states, the factory is in Toronto and the clothes are made in Canada. And it's where Matheson's heart is, too.
"This is where I'm from. This neighborhood has given me everything," he says. "This is the neighborhood I lived in for 16 years. Everything I have has been built within four blocks of this neighborhood. There isn't a place in this world I'd rather do this... and I am genuinely proud that we were able to figure this out and create jobs and a system that supports local sewers here."