For Sarah Maude Huard, of new Villeray sandwich and ice cream spot Rose, the pandemic nearly spelled the end of her career as a chef.
Huard describes her time working at two Montreal restaurants over the past 18 months as being “pressed like lemons,” and then also being robbed of the zest. “Instead of being grateful for the people that actually stayed they made the most of what they could,” she says.
But the temporary lay-offs and understaffed work environments of the pandemic were only part of it. Huard had already become frustrated with an industry that demanded long hours for little pay, and that rarely saw women rise to the helm of kitchens.
But out of the blue, a friend connected her with rookie restaurateurs Anthony Le Para and Marcus Ford who had an intriguing offer: They wanted Huard to run the kitchen at a new Italian ice cream parlour they were opening steps from Jarry Park.
“It was one of the best days of my life,” says Huard, who also has a business management degree. “I just knew that something good could come out of this.”
Ford and Le Para had seen the success of places like La Diperie, and Huard came highly recommended for her ice cream-making skills. But the self-taught chef wanted more, pitching for the addition of Italian sandwiches with a Montreal twist. The restaurateurs agreed, and Ford, who is an international poker player, managed to help finance the business after winning big at a London tournament.
After more than a year retrofitting an old garage with electricity, plumbing, and a full kitchen, Rose was born.
Starting September 22, the bright pink and white new Villeray counter will be dishing Italian sandwiches like the “signature mortadella extreme” stuffed with deli meat from Fumigalli butcher in Little Italy, Quebec-made mozzarella di bufala cheese, and crumbled pistachios on focaccia bread baked in-house. It’ll also be serving coffee, pastries, a breakfast sandwich with egg, mortadella, and provolone cheese on a brioche bun as well as gelato by the tub and homemade soft serve, including Huard’s latest creation: apple pie with Quebec-grown apples topped with fleur de sel caramel and crumbled oats.
For now, Rose will focus on takeout with just a few stools but there’s room for a dining room in the future.
Rose’s decor, including a pink neon sign, roses hanging from the ceiling, and trippy wallpaper with eyeballs popping out of flowers are all intended to be “Instagrammable,” Ford says. The decor is also inspired by the name, Rose, which is also the name of Ford’s partner’s grandmother, as well as Le Para’s mother.
Huard wants Rose to take further inspiration from these two maternal figures by building the kitchen equivalent of a caring mother — one that’s supportive, discourages burnout, and feeds you good food at any time of day.
“I know that at the end of the day we’re running a business ... but there’s a way of taking good care of your employees and also running a business and still being profitable,” she says. She plans to work with staff towards their personal goals, whether that means becoming a chef some day or saving up for a trip in a year.
“I want people to feel comfortable telling us what their needs are, and we’re going to meet them if we can,” Huard says, adding that she’ll do her best to work around their availabilities and pay a little extra per hour rather than have employees busting their asses 60 or 70 hours a week to pay their bills.
Having worked in kitchens where she felt women didn’t get as much respect or opportunity as men, Huard believes advocating a feminist approach is necessary — and she expects the equality behind the counter will shine through to customers, too. “It’s going to show. That’s the kind of kitchen I want to run for sure,” she says.
Rose is slated to open September 22 at 26 Rue Gounod.