Co-ordinated acts of vandalism, disguised as anti-gentrification protests, have become more and more brazen in Montreal's less affluent neighbourhoods. Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in the east, and Saint-Henri in the southwest, have disproportionately borne the brunt of disenchanted looters and vandals, who have repeatedly targeted new restaurants and shops. Two weeks ago Chez Gargantua, a restaurant in Ho-Ma, suffered $5,000 in damages days after it opened. Saint-Henri's Tacos Victor was looted and damaged in January, and just down the street, Campanelli's chronic problems with vandalism have been well-chronicled.
The commercial artery of Notre-Dame Ouest between Atwater and de Courcelle has been badly affected by vandalism over the last few years. What happened this past Saturday at 3734 Épicerie Comptoir, however, was more sinister than a defiant scrawl of spray paint. At approximately 8:30 p.m., the hybrid restaurant-food boutique that only just replaced the defunct Henri St-Henri a week ago, was beset by thirty masked individuals, who promptly looted and damaged the business, intimidated the store's lone employee, and affixed anti-gentrification screeds to the window. Management recounted the incident on Facebook (edited and translated):
Tonight 30 masked individuals entered the store and robbed and vandalized the front window. We've been victims of vandalism before, but never quite like this. I have trouble understanding why our business represents some kind of ominous capitalistic enterprise. Our employee is in shock. Imagine facing down 30 masked men who've invaded your place of work.
These individuals are against the gentrification of the neighbourhood. I can understand that. The cause, but not their target, nor their means of protest.
We source from many local businesses: Soda St-Henri, Aux terroirs, Viandes Fumées de Montréal, Tribu etc. Not multinationals, but small merchants who work tirelessly to create jobs and have a social vision, often against the current, and who contribute to society
We do, and will continue to do, our part. Because we believe in it. Last week in our neighbourhood, we provided some of the food for a benefit for Le Garde-Manger Pour Tous [a food bank based in nearby Little Burgundy], and next week we're participating in an event for Tel-Jeunes [a non-profit that provides professional counsellors for kids aged five to 20]. We also support local organizations for seniors.
The message from 3734's owners, Emmanuel Goubard, Franco Parreira, and Maxime Tremblay, ended with: "Yes to dialogue. Yes to sharing. Yes to a more just world. No to violence. No to fear. Peace." When reached today for comment, in between a flurry of media interviews, Tremblay agreed that the incident felt less like an anti-gentrification protest, and more like an attempt to terrorize the new restaurant. "That's exactly what it is. They want to scare us."
Tremblay and his partners quickly cleaned up and repaired the damage to the business on Sunday, just in time to reopen the grocery store/boutque and adjacent restaurant. "We held our brunch service yesterday, as usual, and some customers brought flowers. The average people in the street don't appreciate what happened, and have been very supportive."
The restaurateur went on to admit that he was not necessarily surprised by Saturday's episode. "The boutique was vandalized before we even opened. I was aware of the tension in the neighbourhood, but at the same time I didn't think we'd be a target like this. It's bizarre for me. I'm pretty left-wing, we do charity work with the catering company [Parreira Traiteur]. It's weird. You know when you go to Griffintown it's gentrified to the max. West of Atwater it's still very mixed. This place was vacant for many years before Henri St-Henri opened. I think they got angry thinking it would be another Griffintown, and I think the look — the sign still looks like Henri St-Henri, we haven't been able to put up our sign yet — maybe threw them off. It's a shame because we want to be an open place, not a jetset or flashy place at all. We want to keep a low profile here in the neighbourhood."
Controversy aside, 3734 Épicerie Comptoir is now very much open in the former, troubled Henri St-Henri. The restaurant component of the business offers a menu (see below) that includes cod fritters, oysters, charcuterie, beef tartare, a kimchi hot dog, smoked cheddar burger, lobster roll, Portuguese chicken, and mixed grill platter. The brunch menu serves up a bacon grilled cheese, salmon gravlax plate, steak and eggs, pancakes, and more. 3734 has an alcohol permit too, and like predecessor Henri St-Henri, will have a terrasse on Notre-Dame Ouest. Bonus: the restaurant is open for three squares a day.
Status: 3734 Épicerie Comptoir, 3734 Notre-Dame Ouest, (514) 303-0877, now open daily.