Welcome to Early Birds and Night Owls, a series that takes a nosy look into the morning and nighttime routines of successful people.
Jen Agg goes to bed on most nights between midnight and 2 a.m., which seems standard, and maybe even a little early, for someone who runs businesses open until last call. Her trend-setting restaurants — Rhum Corner, Le Swan, Cocktail Bar, Grey Gardens, and the forthcoming Bar Vendetta, which will open in the former Black Hoof space — have transformed Toronto’s culinary and cocktail scene and turned Agg into somewhat of a local legend. If you hang around one of her celebrated haunts, you may catch a glimpse of Agg and her husband, artist Roland Jean, a recurring star of her Instagram page, who are based in Toronto and are staples at any one of the spots Agg owns.
The 43-year-old has cornered the market on cool eats in the city while also establishing herself as an outspoken feminist voice in the restaurant industry. Her essays have been published in The Globe and Mail and The New Yorker, and her 2018 memoir, I Hear She’s a Real Bitch — a riff on her prickly reputation, which she rebukes as unfair and sexist — is a national bestseller.
Successful entrepreneur and bestselling author may seem like a lot to juggle, which is why Agg says she goes to bed late and wakes up early (8 or 9 a.m., without an alarm clock). Despite the early rise, she’s a self-described night owl. And because her body is, she says, “fucked up,” she subscribes to an intensive self-care routine that includes weekly osteopath visits (“which I would crumble without”), weekly blowouts (“I hate washing my hair”), monthly facials (“I love my facialist Tamila so much”), and the occasional pedicure.
So, how does she get it all done? Over e-mail, Agg answers that question with a nonchalant, “I just do the stuff that needs to get done all the time.” Here, Agg shares some of the daily habits that have helped her get “the stuff” done and have made her one of the country’s leading restaurateurs.
Productivity high time: all the time
I have a lot of energy, but I like to have late afternoon, early evening downtime, so outside of those hours, I'm generally doing something. If I'm in the middle of a [restaurant] build my mind is probably racing about all the things that need to be coordinated, but generally every day is the same but different, so I'll just roll with what comes at me as it does. I am definitely not relaxing most nights.
Morning mantra: like a goddamn hippie
I have a shot of apple cider vinegar in water first thing like a goddamn hippie and either do Pilates or cardio and weights. I really try to do four or five days a week, which is so fucking hard. I hate it, but I always feel so good and accomplished afterwards, and I see (and feel) the difference regular Pilates has made in my body. Next is a quick protein shake and then I blend up a bunch of veggies for green juice and Roland and I go for coffee — usually tea for me — at Sam James. I take my green juice in a litre container with me to drink there... Sam loves that! It's blended broccoli, kale, celery, ginger, yogurt which is honestly better than it sounds. Basically, if I want to keep drinking wine with what I'd call extreme enthusiasm, this is how it has to be and I'm OK with the price.
Working through dinner: restaurant hopping
I pop around to the restaurants. I eat at them a lot, especially the newer ones: You can't buy that kind of quality control and it absolutely catches things that might otherwise go unnoticed. Sometimes, I do a bit of light hosting and bussing. I plan to be at Bar Vendetta a lot when it opens, which I hope is by July. We are reallllly going for it. It's going to look and feel totally different. The Hoof was such an iconic space that we had to figure out a way to totally rethink the vibe without moving the “kitchen” or bar, because the space can't really work any other way. I think people are going to be shocked when they see how different it is, despite many of the bones staying in place.
A night well spent = cooking for friends
I LOVE cooking for friends, and now that we are basically done with our house renovation, I've been hosting weekly or bi-weekly dinners. I cook slowly and in a very organized way; I can't stand it when people don't clean as they go, and the kitchen is in chaos by the time the chicken hits the oven. I take pride in picking herbs precisely, drying greens well, setting the table early, etc. Then by the time everyone arrives, I'm not all stressed out. My mother hated cooking and was always so harried if she was entertaining, I'm sure I made some subconscious mental notes to not lean into that way of doing it. Then we just hang out and eat, drink, and talk about shit. What is better than that? And as long as you've thought about the group dynamics and chosen well, you're gonna have a good time. I'm very big on group dynamics, they can be thrown off so easily, and this kind of thinking infuses how I staff my restaurants.
A travel-proof late-night snack
I am not above Ubering myself Sneaky Dee's veggie nachos (which travel surprisingly well even if they may need a quick broil) or a 10-pack of nuggets with hot mustard, honey, and sweet and sour sauce for variety but listed in order of preference.
Nighttime ritual: face oil flex
Let me tell you about FACE OILS! Seven or eight years ago I started to take my skincare seriously and have refined and honed what is probably a pretty elaborate daily commitment. It is definitely worth the time and money spent. First, as I'm taking my contacts out, my husband will ask me to do his eyedrops for glaucoma prevention, and I sort of fake roll my eyes every night (he's tried, he insists, but always misses) and do it for him, with love. Then a full two-minute tooth brushing with a mouth-changing electric toothbrush. I try to floss, probably actually do once or twice a week. Next, I wash my face really well with a gentle cleanser and washcloth, making sure to dig all the foundation out from every last pore. Then a goopy night eye cream and a thick slick of Pure+Simple’s Comforting Camellia face oil, which always gets on the inside of my glasses if I stay up reading or watching Netflix in bed but is also the best thing I've ever done for my skin. I don't shower every day. I mean, if I've done an hour of cardio I will. But basically: morning shower, night bath (the bath is full of Epsom salts and about relaxation explicitly).
Shhhhhhh: a sensory sleep hack
If I'm really tired, I'll still try to read a bit but won't last 10 pages. If I'm not that tired but know I have to get to sleep, I'll watch ASMR videos for like 15 minutes and they knock me right out. I like the gentle whispering roll play ones like “sleepy time hair cut” or “eye exam.” Don't ask me to explain it, I cannot, but I appreciate that they exist.