Mention Montreal bagels and two names come to mind — Fairmount and St. Viateur. With a century and six decades worth of respective history, these two bakeries have earned their “icon” status.
But what about the little guys; the diligent bagel bakers who go forego the glory to deliver the goods to neighbourhoods less trafficked by tourists? Montreal is dotted with smaller-scale bagel shops that sling honey-boiled-then-baked rings of goodness to loyal locals. If you don’t seek them out, you may not know they’re there — but it would be remiss to discount them.
Over in Côte St. Luc, an unassuming bagel shop in a strip mall at the end of Westminster has been serving the community for over a decade. Glen Spence, the shop’s current owner, got his start in the business working at Fairmount Bagel for eight years, his first job after moving to Canada from Jamaica in 1996. The bakery was formerly known as Maison Bagel, but Spence renamed it M.T.L. Bagel when he took over ownership in 2014.
The recipe behind his dough is the result of years of trial and error, and he still precisely measures out every ingredient in the name of consistency. “I worked on it and worked on it and worked on it and finally arrived at the recipe I’m using now,” says Spence.
“People always ask me why they can keep my bagels on the counter for four or five days and they’ll still stay soft, and it’s because of the recipe and the quantities.” One of the more in-demand items at the shop, his spicy “all dressed” bagel brings a little more heat than you’ll find in its counterparts around the city.
“When I started out, I was working for somebody else. Now I’m working for myself, so I take a lot of pride in it, from beginning to end,” says Spence. “It’s about the love I put into it.”
M.T.L. Bagel isn’t the city’s only bakery that grew out of a genuine appreciation for one of Montreal’s most storied food traditions.
“It was just something I started doing for my love of bagels,” says Alexandra Grenier, co-owner of Griffintown’s Le Trou, which she runs alongside her husband, Damien Cussac out of a bright, concrete-floored space tucked on the ground floor of a bricky loft building on William Street — having opened just this year, they’re fresh faces in a century-old industry.
“Fairmount has been doing it for 100 years. We’ve been open for nine months.”
Le Trou’s bagels are all hand-rolled and baked in the same Wood Stone-branded oven that gives St. Viateur’s bagels their crusty exterior; the only difference is a gas-powered flame in the place of a wood-burning fire.
“It’s my bagel recipe that we’re selling at the shop,” says Grenier. “We really wanted to respect the traditional way of making bagels. We just wanted to be a little bit greener.”
Grenier got her start with an at-home bagel baking project, selling them to friends and neighbours until she realized there was a gap in the market in Griffintown.
“In Montreal, there are so many bagel shops — Bagel Beaubien, Greene Bagels, [Dizz’s] in Cote St. Luc — I realized there’s definitely room for more than one or two bagel shops in the city.”
That’s certainly true in Grenier’s part of town — Le Trou is the only Montreal-style bagel bakery in the entire Sud-Ouest borough (there is Bagel St-Henri, but it does a fluffier, German-style dough circle).
Over in Verdun, the owners of Bagel St-Lo set out to do something a bit different when they opened their bagel-centric breakfast place five years ago.
“I loved to go out and have bagels, so I associated with a baker who created the recipe for the dough and then we bake them here,” says Isa Lora Messier, who co-owns the shop with partner Émilie Sirois.
“We use a modified pizza oven so it’s a different bagel from what you would find in the traditional shops. It’s a traditional Montreal bagel in the cooking process, in the boiling with the honey, but the dough is a bit softer and the electric oven gives it something different.”
When Bagel St-Lo first opened five years ago, this western pocket of Verdun was relatively light on cafés and restaurants. That has since changed, but the local population still makes up the majority of their business.
“It started off very local and that’s what has been keeping us alive. Clients are super loyal,” says Messier. “People have this strong sense of community here.”
While these less-famous bagel shops may not have the history, or the write-ups in tourists’ guidebooks, places like St-Lo (or M.T.L. Bagel, or Le Trou) still have something different to offer — good vibes, and a good product
“It’s not just about going to get bagels,” says Messier.
“It’s about the experience, the customer service, the coffee, and all these things that go around it, but it all revolves around the bagel.”
Editor’s note: Beaubien Bagel and Dizz’s Bagel were also contacted for this story, but did not respond.