Liberty Entertainment Group’s Nick and Nadia Di Donato have partnered with celebrity entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary and Maple Leafs all-star Mitch Marner in their latest venture: Blue Bovine. Located in Union Station, the steak-and-sushi restaurant is at the junction of Bay Street and the Scotiabank Arena district, offering culinary delights to the business community, sports fans, and everyone else who loves the high-end cuisine for which Liberty Group is famous. Here, the partners discuss with Living Luxe editor-in-chief Stephanie Whittaker why Blue Bovine is such an exquisite addition to the heritage train station and how Liberty Entertainment Group is scoring another win in the fine-dining arena.

By Stephanie Whittaker | Photography by Natasha Gerschon | Location: Blue Bovine, Union Station


For the past century, Toronto’s Union Station has been a destination for countless travellers and commuters. And now, thanks to the remarkable vision and creative energy of Nick and Nadia Di Donato, the iconic building is also a destination for those in search of elegant fine dining. In February, the Di Donatos—the powerhouse couple behind Liberty Entertainment Group—opened Blue Bovine, a high-end steak-and-sushi restaurant, on the main floor of the historic train station. It’s the latest jewel in the crown for a company that has so many glittering achievements: award-winning restaurants that include BlueBlood Steakhouse, DaNico, and Don Alfonso 1890, in addition to event venues Liberty Grand and Casa Loma.


“I’ve always been aware that Union Station has great potential for development, and we at Liberty Group are fascinated by and drawn to heritage sites,” says Nick Di Donato, president and CEO of Liberty Entertainment Group. And while the historic quality of the Beaux Arts-style rail station was an obvious draw, its geographical location was another magic ingredient, he adds. Union Station is at the nexus of two key localities in downtown Toronto: the Bay Street financial district and nearby Scotiabank Arena area.


It’s one of the elements that gave the restaurant an allure for the two celebrities who are partnered in it with Liberty Entertainment Group. Kevin O’Leary, a well-known businessman and investor, is highly recognizable as chairman of O’Leary Ventures and as a star on ABC’s Shark Tank. Mitch Marner, a right winger and alternate captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs, is a star in the hockey world.“My partners are as diverse as what the restaurant is going to be,” Nick says. “Our restaurant will target two different markets: professionals in the financial district and the Leafs fans who go to the Scotiabank Arena. One of my partners represents the financial area and the other, the sports arena.” It’s a synergistic combination. Nick laughs when he speaks of how Kevin O’Leary—a friend for the past three decades—once proclaimed he’d never invest in the hospitality industry because “it’s too risky.” But when O’Leary, aka Mr. Wonderful, learned about Blue Bovine being established in Union Station, he deemed it a perfect opportunity, thanks to the leadership of Liberty Entertainment Group and the Union Station location. While he’d never invested in a restaurant before, O’Leary says, the Liberty Group has a long, successful track record in the industry with flourishing, award-winning venues.




It was also perfect timing, says O’Leary, whose business dealings have led him into the food and wine sectors in recent years. An avid foodie and wine connoisseur, he’s been rolling out his Chef Wonderful Brooklyn Dumplings franchise business for the past two years. “I’ve been cooking my whole life but I never commercialized it until the past three years,” he says. O’Leary says he’ll be a presence at the restaurant whenever he’s in Toronto. Like Marner, he’ll bring celebrity to the establishment. The restaurant is already turning heads for its superb, high-end cuisine and spectacularly designed interiors. Moreover, says Nick, it will be a rare high-end establishment in an area that boasts more fast food than fine dining. “You have over 200 events at the Scotiabank Arena every year and there really is no restaurant of substance attached to it,” says O’Leary. “There are a lot of fast-food take-out concessions, but if you want to have a real meal and taste delicacies and drink fine wine, you’re going to do it here, at Blue Bovine.”


The other partner in the venture, Maple Leafs player Mitch Marner, entered the Blue Bovine partnership serendipitously. Nick says he met the all-star hockey player when Marner and his then-fiancee Stephanie were dining at Liberty Group’s restaurant BlueBlood at Casa Loma. “I told them I wanted to buy them dinner,” Nick recalls. “I sent complimentary items to their table as a gesture of goodwill and, in return, received a signed Leafs jersey from Mitch the following day.” It reminded Nick of his meeting with another hockey great: “Mitch’s heartfelt gesture brought back memories of my first restaurant—PM Toronto—next to Maple Leaf Gardens, and meeting Wayne Gretzky, who sent me a signed hockey stick during the World Cup of Hockey,” he says. “Mitch’s gesture, like Wayne’s, led me to believe that the Blue Bovine project presented an opportunity for Mitch to venture into the hospitality industry and for me to nurture a friendship with this fine gentleman.”


Mitch Marner says he’s excited at the prospect of being part of a winning team off the ice, too. “We have a great relationship with the partners, and know they are good at what they do,” he says, adding that the restaurant’s location is an important part of the equation. “I think the location is going to be great, especially for any events happening at Scotiabank Arena. We are very excited to have our friends, family and teammates there.”




O’Leary concurs that part of the secret sauce in the venture is the phenomenal success of Liberty Entertainment Group, which has created landmark restaurants across the city, winning worldwide acclaim. In 2022, the company’s Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890 restaurant won the 50 Top Italy Award for best Italian restaurant in the world. And if the culinary accolades aren’t enough, Liberty is equally lauded for the outstanding interior design of its establishments, created by Nadia Di Donato, the company’s vice president and creative director. Nadia, who is behind the look and feel of all Liberty Group establishments, has won international design awards for her work, most recently last year for Don Alfonso 1890, for which she won the Best Restaurant Design Award in the Americas from the International Hotel & Property Awards in London, England. She was also one of the top five designers in the Designer of the Year award.


Still basking in the glow of those honours, Nadia turned her attention to the design of Blue Bovine, which she says was a 14-month process because of all the approvals that were necessary from governmental heritage ministries. The restaurant’s 15,000 square feet, at the east end of Union Station—corner of Bay and Front Streets—was raw space when LEG took on the tenancy: concrete floors and ceilings, no dividing walls, and a lack of architecturally historic features. The space had once served as offices but was now empty, giving Nadia a clean slate on which to perform her design magic. Despite the blank canvas, Nadia and Nick were committed to creating design that would respect and echo the heritage of the building.


The primary challenge of the design, says Nadia, was the height of the ceilings, which are lower than what she’s accustomed to working with. “We were working with 10-foot ceiling heights instead of what would normally be 14 or 16 feet,” she says. “Rather than working against it, I incorporated that factor into the decor.” She created a custom-designed, CNC laser-cut patterned steel ceiling, done by the design firm Eventscape. “It’s a peekaboo into the mechanics above, much like you would see the mechanics on an old, fine watch,” she says.


Nadia also worked with the large support pillars in the space. “We incorporated them into the design. I clad them in a custom bovine graphic,” she says, adding that the overall aesthetic is a fusion of traditional and modern elements that include rustic steel and traditional, ornate spindles. The walls are treated in dark colours. “We’re a steak and Japanese house,” Nadia says. “So, I wanted to marry those looks without the space looking too Japanese or too steak house. In certain areas, I incorporated linear Japanese-style seating booths. And there’s also circular tub-style seating. I wanted it to translate into a traditional steakhouse with a modern flair. The styling has two distinct threads: ornate in a traditional fashion and modern in the cut of the furniture. The elements that tie it in are the colours.”




The color scheme is earthy, embracing creams, browns, and blues, accentuated by a deep wine color used in the bar stools. Three varieties of wood—oak, maple, and walnut—stained in three shades create visual variety. And in a nod to the restaurant’s location near the financial district, fabrics include tweeds that represent business suits.


As in the Liberty Group’s other restaurants, Nick and Nadia have incorporated art into the interiors. The showstopping art at Blue Bovine includes street-art works by Mr. Brainwash, Peter Tunney, Peter Triantos, and Mr. Pink Brush. A different kind of art stands sentinel on Front Street in front of the establishment’s doors: a custom bronze bovine modeled on the iconic Wall Street bull. This one, however, faces in the opposite direction to its New York counterpart. “It reflects how different our mindset in the Toronto financial sector is from New York’s,” Nick says.

The opulence of the interior design is matched only by the spectacular culinary offerings at Blue Bovine, overseen by Executive Chef Sean Blomeley, formerly at Liberty Group’s BlueBlood. Nick says the fusion of steak and sushi in the same establishment, while a relatively new concept in North America, is common in Japan. “In Japan, the steak houses are all steak and sushi houses,” he says. “Our most significant beef at Blue Bovine will be brought in from Japan: We’ll have Kobe from Japan, Wagyu beef from around the world and with that will be paired a great sushi. We’ll also showcase Canadian beef because we have some of the best in the world.” He adds that Blue Bovine’s “extraordinarily talented sushi chef is Chef Yi Joo (Eugene) Na. He’s an extrovert and will be in the middle of the restaurant, serving a pre-set menu for eight, in Omakase style.”


In addition to elegant dining, Blue Bovine will dedicate 8,000 square feet of space to a private members’ wine club, which will offer wine storage in a climate-controlled unit. “Membership in the Bovine Wine Club allows people to store their own wine here and enjoy it in the lounge area or with dinner here,” Nick says. “They can have their own private collection of up to 96 bottles. Part of our demographic will be people who work in the towers who live outside the downtown core and don’t want to go home before having dinner or heading to the Scotiabank Arena, the Meridian Centre or the Rogers Centre. They can store their bottles here and enjoy them in our private facility.” Wine clubs have grown in popularity in Toronto in recent years among condo residents who have limited space for wine cellars, Nick says. However, the concept behind the restaurant-based wine club is novel, taking the practice of “bring your own wine” to a whole new level.


Kevin O’Leary says the restaurant’s proximity to the Scotiabank Centre could be an enticement to sports fans to enjoy its offerings before or after hockey games. The man who plays hockey in the Scotiabank Centre concurs. “I’m excited to be involved in the hospitality industry and I’m sure this has incredible opportunity for future growth,” says Mitch Marner.


With its marriage of heritage architecture, central location, luxurious interior design, and superb culinary offerings, Blue Bovine has the right ingredients to be an outstanding success. “There is a vibrant and multifaceted market surrounding the restaurant,” says Nick. “I anticipate that we will consistently experience a high demand.”