"The food will be Middle Eastern. Basically doing a fresh to order falafel and shawarma shop with spreads and salads. Homemade stuff with a liquor license but still casual." When David Bloom described Sumac last fall, it all made sense. What a no-brainer. If done well, fingers crossed, a probable, odds-on success. This was the advance buzz on Bloom's restaurant on Notre-Dame Ouest, which he co-runs with chef Raquel Zagury.
More than nine months on, the good residents of Saint-Henri and beyond seem to agree. "We've surpassed our expectations," admits Bloom. "It's been a lot of work but we're excited. I think there was a gap in the market. People were looking for casual, fresh, homemade food. We live in the neighbourhood and we felt there was a lack of it. We have a solid crew of regular customers who come in early in the week for lunch and maybe pick up for the family later in the week. And industry people have been very supportive from the start."
Bloom has deep Saint-Henri roots. Brothers Jon (Tuck Shop) and Ryan (Rustique, Urban Bonfire, Tejano BBQ Burrito) operate businesses close by to Sumac. "I worked at Tuck Shop at the beginning and got a sense of the neighbourhood. My brothers have been great for advice. It's fun for the family and we all live here. There's a lot of growth potential and a lot of opportunity for young entrepreneurs in Saint-Henri. But it has to be done right and in a way that feels inclusive."
So over nine months in now, what's Sumac's bestseller? "The chicken shawarma is the number one seller," confesses Bloom. "Dylan [Kier, of Blackstrap BBQ and Tejano] called it before we opened. He said chicken for sure. Falafel is second. The salade cuite is a big favourite and of course the fries. But there are surprises too, like the sabich [fried eggplant, hard boiled egg, cucumber pickles, amba mango pickle], which not everyone has heard of or tried before. Menu consistency is key for us. We may tweak it a little but it's not about a rotating menu. In year one we wanted to keep it small and tight and be good as possible. As we grow and get better with more staff, maybe we'll expand the menu. But we're pretty happy with where we are right now." Clearly, Sumac's faithful, well-fed customers are happy too.