John Arena 1924 – 2023


November 19, 1924 – February 11, 2023

Our beloved father, John Arena, passed away unexpectedly, on February 11, 2023. Born in Calabria, Italy, he travelled alone to Australia by ship at the age of 14 in search of his father, who had gone there many years earlier to seek his fortune. As an Italian citizen during WWII, our father was interned at 18. Looking back, he considered himself lucky because that was where he learned to speak, read and write English. Following the end of WWII, Australia is where he discovered his love for the culinary arts, the field in which he continued to work following the war. Arriving in Toronto in 1957, our father worked at the King Edward Hotel, where he met our mother. Over the decades that followed, he helped shape the hospitality industry in Canada. His claim to fame was Winston’s Restaurant, which he purchased in 1966. Winston’s, together with its catering division, became synonymous with fine dining, catering to the elite including prime ministers and royalty. His achievements include co-founding DiRoNA (Distinguished Restaurants of North America), the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners and the Ontario Hostelry Institute. His significant contribution to the founding of the George Brown Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts is one of the achievements he was proudest of. The other was catering for 45,000 people on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Toronto in 1984, whom he had the great privilege of meeting personally. Our father’s vision, creativity and dedication to the industry were influential in creating the fabric of the Toronto we know today. While we are proud of our father’s achievements, it is his character that will remain in our hearts: his interest in and willingness to engage with people from all cultures and walks of life; his love of telling jokes and, perhaps even more, the mirth with which he laughed when telling them; his incredible optimism coupled with unfailing tenacity; his ability to make those around him feel immediately welcome; his incredible memory; and finally, his light-hearted sense of adventure. Our father was predeceased by his beloved wife for 62 years, Reingard; and survived by his 4 children, Michelle, Gregory (Uli) Kristina and Giulia (Tim); 8 grandchildren; and 4 great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the John Arena Aim High Scholarship Fund at the George Brown Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts,

Condolences, photographs or memories can be sent to:

Published by Toronto Star on Feb. 25, 2023.

In September of 2021, between pandemic shutdowns and reopenings, John visited food and lifestyle celebrity David Rocco in his Toronto home for a rare (and John’s last) extended TV interview as part of the new ‘David Rocco’s Dolce Homemade’ 26-part series which premieres on VIVA Streaming TV and TLN TV. In this 30-minute special, Arena shares his love of the hospitality business, stories of the incredible parade of powerful and famous guests he hosted, and even cooks with and shares some special dishes with David.

Link to the episode:
Password: DolceHomeMade