There are a few bleak conclusions to be drawn from a new article on the state of the restaurant scene in Montreal by prominent critic Lesley Chesterman in The Gazette.
The most perceptible takeaway, however, is that restaurant owners and city officials are not on the same page. Not when it comes to taxes or the consequences of relentless construction and road work. Not when it comes to the role a healthy, viable restaurant landscape has to play.
In "The restaurant scene in Montreal: Boom equals bust," Chesterman tackles the question of the moment: does Montreal have too many restaurants? There are 6,500 at last count–a lot for a city with a feeble economy, with more people per restaurant than New York City.
Le Paris Beurre is the poster child for the current state of the restaurant scene. A solid, veteran neighbourhood bistro done in by fierce, proximate competition, the restaurant will close in December.
"Our sales fell over the last three years," owner Hubert Streicher tells Chesterman. "We have a very loyal customer base, but those customers are aging. And younger customers are now heading to bistros on Avenue Bernard."
Similar pressures have forced other restaurateurs like Carlos Ferreira to think smaller and re-evaluate. With a major construction project set for Peel in front of his flagship restaurant, Ferreira, the businessman is wary.
"People are opening restaurants without knowing the business. In 2013, we served 1,800 fewer customers."
Fellow veteran restaurateur Lenny Lighter, of Main mainstay Moishes, thinks more competition is a positive development. Despite lengthy construction work on Saint-Laurent in the past, Lighter refuses to blame city officials but admits that taxes in Montreal are onerous.
Dave McMillan is more direct.
"If the city ripped up the street in front of me here for three weeks," the Joe Beef owner declares to Chesterman, "I’d go under."
The disconnect between city politicians and notable restaurateurs hits home with this subsequent quote from McMillan.
"I’ve served three former prime ministers. The governor of Vermont has eaten at my restaurant four times, but not one Montreal mayor or one municipal councillor from my area has eaten at Joe Beef."
In response, Denis Coderre sent Chesterman an email with this revelation: "Unfortunately, the last time I was near Joe Beef’s restaurant, I was in a hurry and went to eat at Dilallo Burger."
Ignore the fact that the mayor of Montreal may quite possibly think that Joe Beef is alive and well and in possession of an eponymous restaurant in Little Burgundy. The statement underscores a general sense of apathy and dearth of awareness from city hall.
Van Horne owner Sylvie Lachance: "In Outremont where I am, not one elected municipal representative has been to my restaurant. They go to the cheap restaurant down the street."
In Chesterman's article, city councillor Alex Norris (Jeanne-Mance district) is the embodiment of the problem.
The municipal politician apparently told Nicolas Scalera, the owner of Thai Grill in Mile End, that the Plateau borough frowns on "people coming in from other areas or Laval to eat in restaurants in this area. He told me the Plateau is for the Plateau residents."
Chesterman writes that Scalera paid $68,000 in taxes last year. When pressed to name a restaurant in his district, Norris cited L'Express and told The Gazette critic: "I’ll have to get back to you."