We’ve already revealed the most-read stories on Eater Montreal for this year — but what was most important?
Here’s a run-down of ten notable happenings in the Montreal food and restaurant world from 2018. These have been selected not necessarily because they were the most dramatic events (although many drew substantial attention), but because they are representative of bigger changes and trends within Montreal’s food scene, or even within the city at large. (For that reason, we’ve left out stories that were not Montreal-specific, such as marijuana legalization or the death of Anthony Bourdain.)
Here they are, presented in chronological order.
At a time when many thought issues like racism were more prevalent south of the border, this story served as a reminder that actually, Canada might not be so squeaky-clean. Three servers at massive downtown restaurant 1909 Taverne Moderne were let go with no clear reason, with some experiencing some odd criticisms about appearance and work habits. It seemed most readers took the servers’ side, although when the restaurant conducted an “investigation”, it declared that racism wasn’t a factor in the firings — without offering any details to elaborate.
In 2018, it seemed that talk of gentrification in neighbourhoods like St-Henri faded, while it picked up in Mile End — and the biggest symbol of it was the hiking of rent on neighbourhood staple Le Cagibi. New building owners put the rent up over 100%, forcing the café and concert venue to relocate to Little Italy, while trendy lunch spots seemed to pop up all around, catering to the growing crowds of tech workers in nearby buildings. At present, the former Cagibi location is sitting vacant, with for rent signs in the window.
On a lighter note, Italian food was everywhere this year. Fresh pasta counters started appearing in 2017, and it seemed to evolve into a full-blown trend this year — Rita in Verdun, Un Po’ di Più in Old Montreal, Moccione in Villeray were just a few, but perhaps the biggest of them all was Elena, which opened in the winter in St-Henri.
With all sorts of disputes cropping up in Montreal restaurants in 2018, it seems that it wasn’t a year to f*** with workers — and it’s likely that a labour shortage worked in their favour, with restaurant owners realizing that workers who asked for more weren’t so easily replaced. Probably the largest such movement was the unionization of vegan restaurant Aux Vivres’ 65 staff, as staff at the Mile End eatery negotiated better wages and conditions for themselves.
While the Liberals were turfed out of government in Quebec in the fall, before they left, they gave the province a parting gift — a loosening of various liquor laws, voted through unanimously by the National Assembly, including ditching the infamous law that barred restaurants from selling alcohol to customers who hadn’t bought food. Too bad that months after it passed, nobody knew when it would actually take effect.
The #metoo movement came to Montreal’s restaurant scene on a small scale this year. Ontario winemaker Norman Hardie was accused of serial sexual misconduct and Joe Beef’s owners quickly responded, cutting all ties with Hardie. But a few days later, a former Joe Beef kitchen staffer said he’d been groped in the kitchen, and a manager covered it up after a complaint was filed. While owner David McMillan (who wasn’t present) didn’t dispute the accusations and apologized, the incident revealed that perhaps the famous restaurant wasn’t as zero-tolerance on harassment as its reaction to the Hardie news suggested.
A few years ago, food trucks were all the rage in Montreal — but a report from Montreal’s auditor general raised the possibility that it was maybe a trend, hampered by all sorts of restrictions on food trucks. The mobile restaurant industry is still doing OK now, but it’s unclear what the future holds.
If food trucks were in decline, it’s possible that food halls will supplant them: not one but three major food hall projects were announced for downtown Montreal this year, all of them to open in 2019. By the time that number three (Le Central, in Place-des-Arts) went public, it was clear that this trend, evident elsewhere in North America, was descending on Montreal.
The major drama of the latter part of 2018 was the “threat” that wood and charcoal-fired cooking would be banned in Montreal, ruining traditions like bagels and Portuguese rotisserie chicken. It was arguably much ado about nothing — while new restaurants can’t cook with wood, all the existing ones were exempted, putting a stop to all the panicked “Montreal bagels are dying!” headlines.
Restaurants come and go from Montreal every year, including (usually) some bigger-name institutions. But this case was a bit different — Moishes isn’t going anywhere, but went corporate, being bought out by the owners of sports bar chain La Cage aux Sports. It’s too soon to know if it’ll change anything at the famed Plateau steakhouse, but it does seem to be a sign of the food world getting just a little more corporate (see also: all those food halls).