One of Montreal’s most exciting restaurants to open during the pandemic says good-bye today: Little Italy’s Joon, which served food influenced by the cuisines of the Caspian and South Caucasus regions, has permanently closed a year and a half after opening, as per a statement posted to its Instagram page.
“We have had some beautiful moments over the last few months and we honestly wouldn’t change any of them. Unfortunately, it is time for this chapter of our story to come to an end,” the post says.
Reached for further comment, the restaurant’s chef and owner Erin Mahoney tells Eater she’s touched by the outpouring of support she’s received in the hours since the announcement. “It’s kind of a balm to the soul right now to see how many people we’ve actually touched and made happy with Joon, because this last lockdown has been really hard.”
Restaurant dining rooms in Quebec — though now open — were ordered shut to control the spread of COVID-19 on December 31, but the situation was precarious even before then, Mahoney explains. “We got hit with the same thing that everyone else did: When the new variant surfaced people just started canceling their reservations. It was a giant wave of cancellations right at what was supposed to be the busiest time of the year.”
That said, Mahoney, who owned the restaurant with her husband Ilya Daftar and Little Italy restaurateurs Michele Forgione and Stefano Faita (her former employers at Impasto), explains that there was no single reason that prompted the decision to close. Staffing troubles, a lack of government aid (businesses opened during the pandemic are ineligible), and the evolving restaurant landscape all figured into the decision.
Joon opened on St-Laurent’s north end in September 2020, days before what would be the start of an eight-month hiatus on indoor dining in the city. Even so, Mahoney’s restaurant became a fast favourite and a welcome addition to a culinary scene light on the flavours of the Caspian and South Caucasus regions. Her approach married local produce with the spices and herbs that dominate those food traditions, for an oft-changing, though invariably impressive menu that included dishes like rose water-braised Cornish hen, zucchini fritters served with a barberry jam, and a stunning pistachio and saffron ice cream.
Though today’s announcement spells the end for Joon at 7130 St-Laurent Boulevard, Mahoney says she hopes it won’t be a hard stop for the project, which started as pop-up series and she hints could maybe someday lead to a cookbook. “The Montreal restaurant community is changing dramatically right now so who knows what it will be like in the next six months, or what is going to be possible then,” she says.
Though Joon, as a brick-and-mortar, didn’t work out as Mahoney had intended, she says she gave it her all and has no regrets. “Our big joke, my husband and I, is that we planned for everything — everything except a pandemic.”
Joon held its last dinner service on December 18, 2021.