Sufficient anecdotal evidence exists to suggest that Montreal is relatively inhospitable to entrepreneurship—and particularly to bar and restaurant owners. The city's boroughs operate in bureaucratic silos, each with a separate set of opaque rules for new merchants to navigate. The end result is a gargantuan waste of time and money. This, the general takeaway from a significant article published in La Presse yesterday that chronicles the costly, burdensome red tape faced by four Montreal bar and restaurant owners: Alex Bastide (L'Gros Luxe), Jocelyn Roy (Bar Aigle Noir), Éric Jolander (ÜBER Cafbar, Les Incorruptibles, L'Alexia), and Steve Benhamron (Harlow). A spent Jolander recounted his futile, Kafkaesque quest to secure a terrasse permit for ÜBER Cafbar in time for summer. "It's very difficult to be an entrepreneur in Montreal. Sorry, I'm exhausted," the emotional former policeman told reporter Isabelle Ducas, with tears in his eyes. "These annoyances are added to all of life's daily hassles. It ends up being very discouraging."
As is Ducas's article, for any prospective Montreal bar and restaurant owner. Bastide has faced a maze of bureaucratic snafus for his L'Gros Luxe restaurants in Mile End and Little Burgundy. "A terrasse sometimes makes the difference between profitability and bankruptcy. In the summer, everyone wants to eat outside. Officials do not realize that any delay has a huge impact for us." Benhamron had to wait months to get his terrasse permit for Harlow, a restaurant he invested close to $1 million to open. To add insult to inury, Harlow's terrasse paperwork cost $8,000, or double the previous restaurant's permit. Roy, of Bar Aigle Noir, is in a Catch-22 conundrum with regard to capacity, with mixed messages from the Régie des alcools and the fire department. "In Montreal, can a business run without a spoke being put in its wheels? Why should I be made to operate a half-empty bar? The purpose of being in business, is it not to prosper, create jobs, and, by extension, to pay more taxes?"
If there is any optimism to be drawn from Ducas's article, it is in this: everyone seems to agree that Montreal's fetish for overzealous regulation puts merchants in a chokehold. Everyone includes Mayor Denis Coderre, who wants to create a single permit policy for the whole island, reduce paperwork for businesspeople, and set up a web platform-cum-one-stop shop to respond to requests. Improvements to the current system can't come soon enough—one recent study suggested that a third of Montreal merchants would not have chosen to go into business had they known the full extent of the city's red tape. Jen Agg, the owner of Toronto's The Black Hoof, who herself has a restaurant in the works with Arcade Fire, echoed the frustrations of her Montreal peers in a recent tweet.
The paperwork and bureaucratic garbage required to open a restaurant in Montreal is absolutely MIND BOGGLING.— Jen Agg (@TheBlackHoof) July 19, 2015