For the first time since the late ‘70s, St-Viateur Bagel’s flagship Mile End bakery is not running as a 24-hour operation.
For over 40 years, the bakery has only closed its doors for a single night at a time — on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and for very occasional scheduled maintenance. And even in those cases, there’s almost always somebody on site continuously, even if the bakery isn’t open to the public.
But now, its St-Viateur Street premises are getting locked up on a nightly basis. Owner Robert Morena tells Eater he actually had to check that the lock on the front door still works, and had to make copies of the practically-untouched key.
“I haven’t put my key in the front door since, I can’t remember.”
The mass shutdown of the city has shaken up business for St-Viateur, too — Morena says that with no tourists in Montreal, he’s seeing far more familiar faces drop by (although much less foot traffic overall), while the demand for bagels in grocery stores has soared.
The cut in hours wasn’t a financial decision — rather, it was one to look after the physical and mental health of workers.
“It’s day by day, every day I come in and we meet and make the best possible decision for the safety of our staff and our families, then we talk bagel production.”
In order to respect social distancing guidelines, only four customers are allowed in the store at once. Despite it not being a huge space, Morena also notes that there’s already enough space between the bagel baker, roller, and salesperson on duty, meaning the number of staff in store didn’t need to be cut back. Only a couple of employees over 65 years old are not working at present — a precautionary measure, as older people are at higher risk of severe symptoms from COVID-19.
“I could’ve kept them busy. but why put them in harm’s way?”
At present, the main store at 263 St-Viateur W is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, and the bakery’s other locations (including the café operations and its wholesale bakery in Laval) have also cut hours — but it’s shifting on a daily basis, says Morena.
“I made all the signs with the new opening hours, I finished sticking them up, and then went back to the computer to make new signs for the next day.”
And while the hours may shrink again, there are no plans to stop production.
“We’re that shining light — it’s OK, you can still get bagels.”