If there’s anything that Un Po’ di Più owners Dyan Solomon and Eric Girard know, it’s how to run a successful business in Old Montreal.
The pair ventured into the neighbourhood 21 years ago, hunting for spaces in which to open the now-wildly popular café and lunch spot Olive & Gourmando. At the time, the area was filled with abandoned lofts and other empty spaces, Solomon says.
Things are drastically different now — it’s flooded with offices and tourists, and the duo have soundly mastered the art of running a successful business there, attractive to both locals and out of towners. Given the enduring popularity that Solomon and Girard cultivated that first time around, it’s no wonder the June 2018 opening of Italian restaurant Un Po’ di Più was such a success.
Solomon and Girard, who also own Griffintown bistro Foxy, nabbed a prime location for the restaurant on de la Commune Street, right across from the Old Port. They had actually owned the space for 12 years prior to opening, but always with a tenant inside. But with the previous tenant’s lease ending, the pair opted to take the space for themselves, offering up a high quality establishment on a strip better known for pricy tourist traps.
It was Girard’s experiences traveling in Italy that inspired the creation of Un Po’ di Più. After embarking on numerous personal trips to the country, he presented Solomon with an idea for an aperitivo bar that served the same menu from day to night, modeled after the idea of an “old world, old school cafe that you might find in Milan,” Solomon says.
“[Girard] was absolutely sure that he really wanted to do this” when he presented her with the concept, Solomon says. So the duo and their trusty team got to work, taking six months to renovate with the help of renowned local designer Zébulon Perron (see also: Montréal Plaza, Marcus). They built a kitchen from scratch, designed a circular bar within the 67-seater dining room, and opened right in time for summer. Less than six months (and numerous positive reviews) later, they won Eater Montreal’s Casual Restaurant of the Year award for 2018.
Solomon admits, rather cheekily, that at the time of their nomination for the award, Un Po’ di Più was more of a casual restaurant — in energy, if not in aesthetic — than it is today. Indeed, the restaurant takes walk-ins, serves the same menu throughout daytime and evening services, and keeps snacks at the heart of their menu. But its service has grown fancier over time.
“The menu’s become more elaborate than I think our initial plan for it to be,” Solomon said, owing this in part to customer requests for larger plates and a longer, more formal sit-down experience.
Within a few months of opening, chef Nick Giambattisto, formerly of Joe Beef, added a number of decadent mains to the menu, including a gooey three-cheese white lasagna and a gnocchi with cream sauce and chicken skin, both of which have been crowd-pleasers.
“If you don’t bend a little bit to the will of the customer, you won’t be in business,” Solomon says. “You can’t lose your identity, and you have to be strong with...your values and your ethics…but after that you need to be respecting what people want from the space.”
Like any innovative restaurant team, Giambattisto and staff at Un Po’ di Più are constantly experimenting with new menu items, setting aside “test days” to taste and tweak new plates. While the staff remain nimble and open to changing the menu according to seasonality and customer feedback, Solomon says they keep “three or four” dishes at the core of their menu, including their aperitivo tower, which includes high-quality prosciutto, olives, and deviled eggs.
Every ingredient on Un Po’ di Più’s menu, regardless of how long it stays there, is made of top-notch ingredients, she adds, some sourced from local farms around Quebec, and some (including olive oil and dry goods) imported from suppliers in Italy.
In keeping with the richness of the Italian plates, the restaurant’s design features an elaborate scheme of blues, blacks, and whites. The floors are tiled with a geometric square pattern, the walls are lined with grey marble, and spherical lights hanging from the ceiling exuding warm yellow hues.
The luxe atmosphere of both the interior design and the menu at Un Po’ di Più make for quite the pairing, one that Solomon says was a conscious choice, intended to inspire patrons to indulge.
“We want it that you would walk in the space and feel like having that kind of aperitivo cocktail,” she explains. “You really want the space and the lighting and the music and the colours to make people do what you’re hoping they’ll do.”
She hopes the entire experience will make patrons feel “sparkly in the tummy,” excited by the novelty and decadence of their meals and service.
“A warm feeling,” Solomon says she hopes customers will feel. “A little bit of like, ‘this is prettier than we thought, this is nice.’ Excited.”