Breakfast. Some of the best restaurants in the city don't serve it (lunch, too, for that matter). We wanted to know why. So we put the question to a handful of Montreal chefs and restaurateurs. Here's what they had to say:
David McMillan (Joe Beef, Liverpool House, Le Vin Papillon)
"If the price of food keeps rising, and the economy crumbles, and I had to — yeah, I would serve breakfast. I would love a place like Maison Publique to open for breakfast, seven days a week. I would love to go to Joe Beef and cook breakfast. I have a great need and want to cook breakfast — it's my favourite meal. I'd love to wake up at five in the morning, cook at six, and be out of there at then. But then I have responsibilities during the day. The restaurants are open at night, and when your restaurant's open, you don't rest. Even if I'm on a beach, if it's seven at night, and I'm anywhere in the world, there's no rest. We only rest when the restaurants are closed. And the sad truth is people don't drink at breakfast."
"I would love to go to Joe Beef and cook breakfast."
"Honestly, I have so many ideas — Fred [Morin] and Marco [Marc-Olivier Frappier] too. It's a shame but we've never been able to put them into practice. Short order style breakfasts. I can make hash browns in duck fat that would make you cry. Duck confit hash, duck eggs, turkey eggs, quail egg omelettes, veal bacon, on and on and on. It's a can of worms that hasn't been opened. It would be absolutely fantastic but it's a can of worms."
"I think we all have this dream, especially chefs like me who have families. We're all passing the torch. I have this deep-rooted fantasy that one day I'll have a little coffee shop restaurant, and get back behind a six burner stove and hammer out breakfasts. I still have this desire to open a general store with breakfast. I have a deep desire to cook breakfast."
Derek Dammann (Maison Publique)
"Breakfast? No. We wouldn't consider it. I think if we came out of the gates with it, something might've come of it. But introducing it at this stage, no. The labour costs for one, you'd need a whole other team. Trying to introduce it when people have their established places would be tough. I don't think it would be very lucrative. People are very ritualistic about breakfast and brunch. Unless you're doing huge volume, forget it. We're pretty blessed rent-wise in Montreal versus Toronto and New York. In those cities I'd have to consider three services. A place like Bar Raval in Toronto did it well, serving breakfast right out the gates. That was the concept and Grant van Gameren did it spot on."
"Unless you're doing huge volume, forget it."
"It's very hard here. It's up and down, up and down. I think it has to do with location too. Look at Olive et Gourmando in Old Montreal. They kill it for breafast and lunch. If Maison Publique was downtown, then maybe I'd entertain it. You can be very creative with breakfast, but you have to do volume. Introducing it four years in, I don't know. What if it doesn't work? What if it affects your business at night?"
Michele Forgione (Impasto, Pizzeria Gema, Chez Tousignant)
"I don't think we have the crowd to sit and eat breakfast. A lot of people grab and go. I'm not sure we'd have enough on a Monday or Tuesday morning. Our staff pulls crazy hours as it is. In the end you're doing, what, 20 people? That's why we took it off the menu at Chez Tousignant. I think the breakfast culture during the week in Montreal is pretty much non-existent. We would never consider it at Gema or Impasto; we wouldn't have the crowd. We thought about a weekend brunch once in a while, but in our case during the week, there'd be nothing. It's like tumbleweeds in Little Italy."
"I think the breakfast culture during the week in Montreal is pretty much non-existent."
"Our kitchens aren't set up for a fast breakfast service, and it would take away from our core businesses. Gema's a pizza place, Impasto is finer Italian. With brunch you can show your true identity, but not at breakfast. You know how many eggs you have to sell to make rent? You need a lot of volume and we don't have that. You'd need a second team. Impasto's open five nights, two lunches, and that's one team. Adding a breafast service; does it make financial sense? For maybe $1,000 a day with $400 in labour? No. In a city like New York they have to be open for all services. They have no choice economically. But they also have the population to support it. Montreal's different."
Richard Bastien (Leméac, Le Mitoyen, and soon Monarque)
"There's no way I'd serve breakfast at Leméac. To serve breakfast you need volume, because the average bill is so much less. Our cooks already come in at 7 a.m. to prep for lunch service. We'd be slammed. I don't think weekdays would be profitable for breakfast. We're already super busy late at night. Weekend brunch is smoother. We have volume, 300 covers or more, plus people spend more, they even take wine, dessert. They have time on Saturdays and Sundays. Weekday morning are different. We pay our cooks more so it probably wouldn't be worth it. For a $12 tab maybe, on average? It's terrific if you can pull it off, but it's hard. It's really a question of economics. I'd put my lunch service in peril. Who'd come on a Tuesday morning to eat breakfast?"
"Who'd come on a Tuesday morning to eat breakfast?"
Stephen Leslie (Monkland Tavern, Tavern on the Square, Le Sieur d'Iberville)
"There's no real money in breakfast. Tavern on the Square is already open from 11 a.m. to midnight. Adding breakfast to the mix becomes a staffing issue. My phone will start ringing at 5 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. So many headaches. Free refills, people are picky about how they want their eggs — frankly it scares the shit out of me. It's hard enough to make money at lunch, when people aren't ordering much booze. I'm not sure there's a market here for breakfast. The concept could be fun. It's more grab a coffee, grab a croissant or muffin, get to to work. Monkland Tavern's a perfect example. I couldn't make lunch work there. I don't think Monday to Friday people are going out to eat croque-monsieurs and omelettes. All that extra work to break even? I don't think so."
"All that extra work to break even? I don't think so."
Mario Brossoit (L'Express)
"L'Express has served breakfast from day one. But breakfast is extremely challenging, and demands a lot of our staff. We don't make much profit from it. It's more a philosophy, a point of view. We decided from the start that L'Express would be open, almost all the time, from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. It's a service we offer. Some mornings we're less busy, and we bring in less money. But breakfast has always been a part of L'Express, and people can rely and depend on us for that."