This is an updated, re-written version of an article initially published April 17, 2018 on Eater Montreal.
It’s been well over over a year since beloved Mile End restaurant Hôtel Herman was unceremoniously evicted from its premises on St-Laurent — and yet the space appears to have remained wholly untouched since the young trio behind the restaurant packed up their knives and natural wines.
The restaurant, which was universally beloved by critics, was forced to shutter in February 2017 after landlord Katerina Protopapas decided she wanted the space vacant, and refused to accept the restaurant owners’ offer of a substantial rent increase. Protopapas remains the building owner, but there have been no signs of life at the St-Laurent storefront, except for a number of graffiti tags slapped on the front.
Look around the neighbourhood, and Hôtel Herman is hardly the only sad-looking empty storefront — further up St-Laurent at St-Viateur, iconic coffee shop Le Cagibi met a similar fate. The landlords, Jeremy Kornbluth and Brandon Shiller, increased the rent by over 100 percent (from $3,417 to $7,500 per month). That’s not the kind of increase a coffee shop selling $3 cups can easily absorb, so it was forced out of its prime corner location (mercifully, it found new digs in Little Italy). Yet a year later, it’s still vacant — and unlike at Hôtel Herman, there’s even a “for lease” sign on the window inviting tenants.
It’s the kind of move that seemed to be laying the groundwork for an outfit with deeper pockets, such as a chain — and over on Parc Avenue, that’s exactly what happened at former doughnut café Chez Boris. The landlord, development company Canpro, refused to renew the lease, forcing the doughnut and coffee spot out, even if business was apparently sturdy. Those premises sat vacant for over a full year, until vegan chain Copperbranch eventually settled. At least it’s a locally-grown chain, albeit one that wants to expand to over 60 locations internationally, most of which have relatively sterile, food court-adjacent atmosphere: Not exactly the sort of cool and cozy haunt that fits into what is considered Montreal’s most “arty” neighbourhood.
There’s no one scapegoat here — perhaps the biggest player in terms of real estate is realtor Shiller Lavy, which has bought up much of St-Viateur. But overall, the vacant restaurants belong to a range of landlords, and many of the vacancies are restaurants that apparently went out of business without added landlord problems. Those include the grand former location of Bernard Street’s Invitation V, which moved to Old Montreal. Right across from it, old-school Vietnamese spot Milani has vacated its storefront, and 200 metres away, Kazuma Sushi on Bernard has sat vacant for over 18 months.
Even when spaces are filled, they might not last for long — a double-storefront on St-Viateur that was once Mexican restaurant Socialito on St-Viateur sat vacant for close to two years. In 2018, it was filled with Italian eatery Tucci, which went bankrupt in just a few months, according to provincial government files.
In the case of locations like Le Cagibi, it seems that the owners are waiting for a deep-pocketed renter to come by — perhaps like the Lululemon that took up residence a few blocks west. As for Hôtel Herman, one can only guess at what the landlord gains from leaving the space empty, running up a tax bill with no apparent attempt to find a tenant. Plus, it’s almost impossible to ask her: minimal contact information is available for Protopapas (and landlords are often rather media shy, and under no obligation to talk to the media).
In any case, it’s something worth observing: what is supposedly one of the city’s destination neighbourhoods for food, arts, and culture seems to be flagging under the weight of empty spaces that nobody wants to rent. You OK, Mile End?
- Why and What Next: Inside The Hôtel Herman Closure [EMTL]
- Landlords With Gentrifier History Are Behind Le Cagibi’s Rent Hike [EMTL]
- Dunlevy: Decrying gentrification – ‘Big developers’ are a big problem in Mile End [Montreal Gazette]
- Mile End Doughnut Hub Chez Boris is Closing [EMTL]
- Le Cagibi Has Checked out of Mile End — and Other Closures to Know [EMTL]