Look up, you can see the new Philippe Starck tower from here," says Marc-André Royal from the doorstep of La Bête à Pain, his chic new bakery and café. "Welcome to Griffintown." Indeed. Montreal's millennial-choked quarter has undergone more dramatic changes than any other part of the city over the last decade. The condo boom has produced a new skyline, and generated a bumper crop of new restaurants and cafés, all facilitated by enthusiastic investors. La Bête à Pain, which opens March 28, is part of a colossal, refurbished warehouse space owned by Montreal's Mashaal family, of hedge fund and property development fortune and fame. Other tenants include a florist, a vendor of elite home cinema and audio equipment (Fillion Électronique), and posh furniture brand MUST, from Maison Corbeil. A state-of-the-art kitchen and pop-up dinner space behind La Bête à Pain will host special events and demos, curated in part by Royal. Need concrete proof that this once blue collar neighbourhood has changed? This is it.
For Royal, the Griffintown outlet of La Bête à Pain (the original is in Ahuntsic, next to his popular and renowned restaurant Le St-Urbain) was too good of an opportunity to pass up. "Just look at this space," the chef remarks proudly. "It's incredible." The chef plans to spend most of his time at the new bakery, café, and lunch restaurant for now, but has a capable hand in charge of the kitchen in Russell Smith, a veteran of Royal's Ahuntsic restaurants, who also spent time under David McMillan at Globe. "I need someone who can do more than cook," observes Royal. "Russ knows how to manage a business. He knows who to call, and what to do, if something goes wrong."
La Bête à Pain's sleek look was not the product of a lone designer. "We sort of put it together by committee," confesses Royal. "We just wanted it to be clean, with some French accents here and there." While the 30-seater will ostensibly double as a café/restaurant (with gourmet shop hints, for good measure), the bedrock will be bread. Those breads, made in-house, will anchor a sandwich menu, with pastries brought in from La Bête à Pain's Ahuntsic facility. Plates like tuna tataki, soba noodles, and other power lunch items, will also be served. "My philosophy is not to manipulate good ingredients," explains Royal. "If a dish has basil in it, it's quality basil leaves, not pesto." Local roaster Barista will supply the bakery's coffee, and a few wines will eventually make the cut.
As for the bread lineup, Griffintown's demographics have given Royal a license to play. "I hope to experiment with some new grains and styles. Our clients in Ahuntsic are creatures of habit, and that's great. But here we can start fresh with some different products." Ultimately, Royal wants La Bête à Pain to be whatever customers want to make of it. "You can come in and get your bread for breakfast. Sit down and have a coffee, a sandwich, or a more refined plate. If you want a baguette and a cheese, we can cut them and serve them at the table." Welcome to Griffintown.
Status: La Bête à Pain, 195 Young, between Wellington and Ottawa (patrons can also enter via MUST's Peel street entrance). Opens Monday, March 28, and then Tuesday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.