One of Mile End’s most prime pieces of commercial real estate has been leased, as Old Montreal taco-and-cocktail restaurant La Catrina plans to move to the neighbourhood.
It will take over the former location of café Le Cagibi, right on the corner of St-Viateur and St-Laurent.
Le Cagibi moved from that location to Little Italy in 2018, after that building was sold and new owners Brandon Shiller and Jeremy Kornbluth hiked the rent by more than 100 percent (from $3,400 per month to $7,000). At some stage after that, the building changed hands again, with realtors Shiller Lavy (part-owned by Brandon Shiller’s father, Stephen).
After Le Cagibi departed in April 2018, the building sat vacant (until now, of course) and helped to spur a discussion about the issue of vacant storefronts in Montreal. It appeared that Shiller Lavy was playing a game of speculation: increasing rent substantially in the hopes that a deep-pocketed tenant would step in. This could then result in much greater profits for Shiller Lavy than if they filled the space faster by renting it at a lower rate.
The arrival of stores like Lululemon and Aesop further down the street seemed to stoke concerns that Le Cagibi’s space would be taken over by a chain or some kind of big corporate entity — say, Starbucks, whose presence might be consider antithetical to the general character of the neighbourhood.
Mercifully, that didn’t come to fruition, as new tenant La Catrina is more or less a small business. It opened on de la Commune in Old Montreal about a year ago, and a second location for the restaurant will take the former Cagibi space. Its owner, Emiliano Gonzalez Camarena, is not brand new to the restaurant scene: he also founded Old Montreal’s La Champagnerie (now known as Maison Saint-Paul, and no longer under Gonzalez Camarena’s ownership).
In a message to Eater, Gonzalez Camarena says that he had been offered the Mile End location but opted to open in Old Montreal first, saying his team knew the area better.
La Catrina is a mid-range restaurant — its Old Montreal location serves a range of Mexican dishes that lean traditional (although with a few tweaks). The kitchen is run by chef Jacques Coutu (also formerly of La Champagnerie), who spent a month with Gonzalez Camarena’s mother to learn and develop Mexican recipes.
The menu features standards like tacos al pastor or chicken tinga cost $10 for two. It’s not just tacos — a few bigger dishes like saucy chile en nogada or chilaquiles with beef tongue sit around the $20 mark, while appetizers like tuna tostadas or a ceviche hover around $10 to $15. Cocktails, most of which centre around tequila and mezcal, also average $12.
It does seem like La Catrina may have a tough time winning over the neighbourhood. Le Cagibi’s rent hike and de facto eviction left a sour taste among many, and anybody who took that space was probably going to draw some derision. When posters for La Catrina went up in the restaurant’s windows, people quickly noticed, and comments varied from wary sentiments along the lines of “at least it’s not a Starbucks” through to “Mile End is dead” — while not aggressively outraged, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be the warmest of welcomes, at least from longer-term Mile End residents.
In any case, La Catrina is set to open sometime in spring.
- Le Cagibi Has Checked out of Mile End and Into Little Italy [EMTL]
- La Catrina, un nouveau mexicain à célébrer [La Presse]