The chef and owner of Syrian restaurant Damas, Fuad Nirabie, is an adaptable man. After last December’s announcement of a large Eataly-ish project in the old Forum and plans for a high-end casual dining spot in January, the COVID-19 crisis necessitated a shift in priorities and a pivot to takeout. Two delivery vans and a revamped menu later, Nirabie has now taken over the premises of recently-shut Outremont restaurant Les Fillettes across the street, for a Comptoir Damas opening in spring 2021.
“Our plans evolved. It’s tough to know the timing exactly, with delays in the issuance of demolition permits taking up to six months now,” Nirabie told Eater Montreal. “We’d initially rented a small space across from us on Van Horne for Comptoir Damas, and then COVID-19 hit. We had to adapt fast; that smaller space ended up becoming our production kitchen for delivery and takeout.”
The site — previously occupied by Les Fillettes, which closed on August 30 under the strain of the pandemic — offers 2,500 square feet for Nirabie to have both a takeout space and an épicerie fine, which will serve up everything from early morning breakfast sandwiches and Damas’ standby dishes, to marinated meats ready to grill at home. There’s parking for ten vehicles, too, which Nirabie describes as “a real plus in Outremont.” There’s room for up to 30 diners when indoor dining can happen again, and a glassed-in, year-round terrasse.
In addition to the boucherie, Comptoir Damas will also feature Damas’ new line of branded grocery products developed in Syria by Nirabie, currently sold at the restaurant for takeout and available shortly online. Fifty items, including their own olive oil, pomegranate molasses, verjus, and tahini, as well as a range of spices like dried Aleppo pepper (with three levels of heat), sun-dried Aleppo pepper paste, and sumac are included in this range for home cooks and Syrian food lovers.
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Produits de spécialité Damas bientôt disponibles, incluant le Makdous mariné (aubergine dans l'huile d'olive, farci aux noix, poivrons rouges et ail)! // Damas speciality products coming soon, including marinated Makdous (eggplants in olive oil, stuffed with walnuts, red peppers & garlic)!
Until Comptoir Damas opens, Nirabie keeps innovating, with a new brunch menu and a commitment to bring back as much of his 100-strong team as possible. He’s actively resisted the lure of delivery apps, focusing on takeout and using his small fleet to deliver meals within a 15 kilometre radius (for a $150 minimum order). Nirabie’s plans for the market on Atwater are still top of mind, though the space and concept will be modified to one of a similar size and concept as the Van Horne operation, hopefully opening in summer 2021.
The timing of the openings are somewhat out of Nirabie’s hands at the moment, but he says he’d love to open even more mini-Comptoirs Damas across the city. “It’s working well, but things are crazy,” he says. “Who knows with this pandemic?”