The story behind one of the longest standing, most iconic family restaurants in Mississauga

Published July 26, 2023 at 3:57 pm

The story behind Michael's Back Door, one of the longest standing, most iconic family restaurants in Mississauga

Michael’s Back Door is officially 42 this year, and their journey to becoming one of Mississauga’s most iconic family-owned restaurants is a long and interesting one.


Located at 1715 Lakeshore Rd W in Clarkson, Michael’s Back Door is known for serving up delicious Italian dishes in a gorgeous, upscale interior, making it one of the city’s favourite spots for approachable fine dining, romantic dinners, and family get togethers. Guests enter through a door at the back of the building, which is where the restaurant gets its name.

Michael’s Back Door is celebrating their 42nd anniversary by featuring some of their most revered signature dishes, which have stood the test of time and become a mainstay on the menu:

Artisan Bruschetta Trio: One of the most creative appetizers on the menu, this dish features a crispy and flavourful Calabrese Toastini Spread with Citrus Ricotta, Sautéed Mushrooms, and Tomato Jam.

Artichoke Arancini: Tantalize your taste buds and whet your appetite with the Breaded Artichoke Risotto, served with Basil Tomato Sauce.

Capelli D’Angeli: This popular pasta dish is a signature at Michael’s and one of their oldest on the menu. The Angel Hair Pasta is served with succulent Lobster and a rich Tomato Cream Sauce – if you’re not sure what to try, you can’t go wrong with this dish.

Filetto Di Vitello: This dish is sure to satisfy the meat lovers with its Pan-Seared Veal Tenderloin cooked to perfection and served with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, and a Red Wine Demi-Glace.

Cioppino Di Pesce: For those who prefer the taste of fresh seafood, this dish offers a mouthwatering combination of Shrimp, Calamari, Mussels, Clams, Prime Cod and 1/2 Lobster Tail, all served in a delicate Garlic White Wine Tomato Broth.

Toblerone Chocolate Mousse Cake: A delicious meal calls for an equally fantastic dessert, like this decadent chocolate cake: A trio of white, milk, and bittersweet chocolate mousse, finished with a dark chocolate coating.

In addition to those popular mainstays, the menu changes seasonally with fresh new dishes as well as special menus focusing on meat dishes, seafood, pasta and more.

Michael’s Back Door is one of the oldest restaurants in Mississauga. The restaurant’s history begins in 1981, when Italian immigrant Michael Morra Sr. transitioned from operating a hair salon to running his own restaurant. Having no prior experience in the food industry, the restaurant grew as a labour of love for authentic Italian cuisine.

He built the restaurant up inside a building he renovated in Clarkson which included multiple different units he bought out over the years, resulting in the restaurant having an array of visually striking rooms that are distinct from one another.

Michael Morra Sr. eventually handed down the restaurant to his son Michael Morra Jr., who continues to run it alongside partners general manager Anthony Coffa and head chef Mark DeSouza. Together, they grew the restaurant into an iconic destination that has even had some major celebrities from outside Mississauga coming to check it out.

While much has changed over the last four decades, the commitment to quality food and excellent service has remained the same.

Tell us about the decision to open Michael’s Back Door.

Michael Sr.: I’ve been here since 1959. Back in the 70s I renovated a building [in Clarkson] and I had a friend who wanted to open an Italian restaurant. He knew the restaurant business, so we decided to open the restaurant – unfortunately money was disappearing, and two years down the road we had more debt than we started with. We had no choice but to take over the restaurant from him. I didn’t know the restaurant business, I was a hairdresser and real estate agent, but we made it work. My wife Anna had studied hotel and restaurant management in college, and she was a great cook, so she came in and helped as a chef. We brought the business up to a good, profitable operation.

What can people expect from Michael’s Back Door in the future?

Michael Sr.: I’m really excited with the way things are going now – hopefully things will continue to go well for many years to come. We’ve survived through many different recessions, and now we’re 42 years old this year.

You grew up in the hospitality industry, what was that like?

Michael Jr.: It was fun, it was hard work, it was long hours. As a 14-year-old starting with washing dishes, it’s your first job, and you’re working for your father and mother and you have to be on your best behaviour all the time – it was challenging at times. Over the years we’ve had fantastic clientele from the area and got to know a lot of people, become very close with a lot of people. In fact, I had some of my customers at my wedding reception.

What did it mean for you to take over the family business?

Michael Jr.: It’s an absolute honour, to be honest. Just the fact that between my father and his partner and my mother, how they were able to get through very difficult times on more than one occasion and to turn things around and to create this lasting legacy, I can’t put it into words. I’m just thrilled to be here, just love the community, and if we can we’d love to be here another 40 years.

What’s your favourite dish on the menu?

Michael Sr.: They’re all my favourite, but I love the angel hair pasta with tomato cream sauce and lobster, it’s really nice. We have everything else like steak and seafood, I also love [seafood dish] Cioppino Di Pesce.

Michael Jr.: Over the years I’ve had a lot of them. I’m a huge pasta fan obviously, I love any of the pastas – the seafood pasta is one of my favourites. Actually, one of the pastas we have on the menu right now, the Orecchiette, is a very traditional dish from where my family is from in Italy, from Puglia. It has rapini, Italian sausage, it’s one of my favourites 100%.

Mark: One of my favourite dishes is the Capelli D’Angeli lobster pasta, it’s one of the oldest dishes here and a signature dish at Michael’s. It’s really simple, it’s classical and everyone loves it, so it’s a great accent to this restaurant.

What brought you to join the Michael’s Back Door team?

Anthony: I joined Michael’s in September of 2015. It was time for a change in my life – I was managing another, very well-established restaurant here in Mississauga. I was looking for something more challenging and I thought this would be the perfect establishment. So I went for it and have no regrets.

What do people expect when they come to Michael’s Back Door?

Anthony: They know the service is going to be here, the quality of the food, but also a sense of being at home. When they come in, the way we greet the customers at the door, give them the option of whatever table they want – they love the solarium (the section of the restaurant with gorgeous glass walls). We bring them a sense of comfort, they know they’re in a great establishment, a well-established restaurant. And they know their expectations are going to be met with the wine list, the food, the service, the host – they expect it and we achieve it.

Who are some of the most memorable guests and celebrities who have visited Michael’s Back Door?

Michael Jr.: Over the years we’ve had quite a few, like Toronto Maple Leaf players – back in the 80s [Leafs centre] Darryl Sittler was here frequently until he moved away – and other Toronto Maple Leaf players of the 80s and 90s. The most shocking, unannounced visit came from [American actor] Woody Harrelson. One busy Saturday night in the early summer he strolled in with a few guys. They came in and I just couldn’t believe it, like “What is he doing here?” The most impactful guest for me was Payne Stewart, who was a professional golfer. He was my favourite golfer of all time.

Anthony: We’ve gotten athletes, and I know some local rockstars come in here as well. Gil Moore, the drummer and vocalist from [Canadian hard rock band] Triumph, who’s also part owner of Metalworks Studios right here in Mississauga, is a regular customer of ours. We also used to get Mayor Hazel McCallion, she was always very popular in here – she insisted on drinking Mississauga’s finest water, nothing bottled for her. In the past we’ve also had [American singer] Tony Bennett here back in 2011. When you have Tony Bennett dining at Michael’s Back Door, that really says a lot.

How did you become the head chef at Michael’s Back Door?

Mark: I was a chef at another prominent Italian restaurant in Mississauga, so I was there for quite some time actually, and then Michael Sr. made a proposition to Anthony and he wanted some people to come aboard to help finetune some things. I agreed, and pretty much everything after that just fell into place.

Can you tell us about the importance of serving good, quality food?

Mark: One of the beauties of this industry is that when you get great food, you get instant gratification. For some people, if they’re having a hard day, a great meal can easily change their evening. I think good food is just a staple of good culture and everything that people do – we always come around together around food to talk, to share stories and things like that.

Here’s to another 42 years at Michael’s Back Door! The popular restaurant is open now at 1715 Lakeshore Rd W in Clarkson.

To keep up to date with all of the latest news and updates, follow Michael’s Back Door on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

 

 

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