It seems that the public may never know how much cash the Quebec government poured into bringing multi-millionaire French chef Joël Robuchon’s ultra-high-end chain L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon to Montreal.
Eater filed two Access to Information requests seeking this information — one to Quebec’s finance ministry, and another to Loto-Québec, the government corporation that runs casinos, and by extension, the Robuchon restaurant — but came up completely empty handed.
Robuchon’s restaurant opened in the Montreal Casino in December 2016. Intended to be a destination restaurant that would draw crowds, it garnered excellent reviews from critics, but perhaps due to high prices, it didn’t appear to be filling up. (At present, on the cusp of the high tourist season, there are still tables available at prime time slots for this Friday and Saturday, for example.)
Despite the restaurant being publicly financed, Loto-Québec and finance minister Carlos Leitão have continuously refused to give any details about how much the restaurant cost to open — in an apparent slip, Leitão suggested that the price tag was $11 million, although casino representatives later denied this.
This left Access to Information as the only apparent route to find out more — however, a request to Leitão’s office yielded nothing. A representative said that no documents fitting Eater’s request for budget information existed.
Then, a second Access to Information request to Loto-Québec was denied, and a representative supplied a list of reasons why the organization was not required to divulge any financial information:
- Sharing such information could economically damage Loto-Québec.
- Government corporations (see also: the SAQ) may refuse to share trade secrets, including when the secret may belong to a third party (for example, Robuchon).
- Government corporations may also refuse to share any information that could hinder their dealings with a third party or cause financial losses to a third party, unless that party gives permission.
A request to Loto-Québec for extra details about these reasons went unanswered.
These are an odd set of excuses: the request focused on the restaurant’s overall budget, and not detailed operational aspects that would include actual trade secrets. Furthermore, it seems that despite its public status, Loto-Québec is free to operate without transparency, given it can legally withhold information that could be damaging.
On top of that, the reasons for denial imply that Loto-Québec would need Robuchon’s permission to disclose such information, which could include details like how much Loto-Québec paid Robuchon to open in Montreal — given the restaurant’s likely high price tag, Robuchon probably has little to gain from making it public.
So it seems for now, the only details about how much was spent on the restaurant will be bits and pieces: a tip when the restaurant opened suggested that $80,000 was spent on flatware and tableware, and it’s known that before the opening the restaurant was taking out large advertorials in Montreal newspapers that typically cost thousands of dollars — unfortunately these are just tiny pieces of a much larger picture.