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The Restaurant Scene in Montreal : Boom Equals Bust


Lesley Chesterman

Montreal Gazette


Published on: November 21, 2014

Last Updated: November 21, 2014 9:14 AM EST


Le Paris-Beurre is an excellent neighbourhood bistro that Outremont residents are lucky to have called their own for more than thirty years.


The braised leeks with curry vinaigrette, the goat’s cheese salad, the famous gratin dauphinois and côte de boeuf for two, plus the best crème brûlée in town, make this restaurant a sure bet. Yes, the wine list has been on the predictable side for a decade too many and maybe the soup has a tendency to be a little watery, but the terrasse is divine and the dining room offers the ideal out-of-a-Truffaut-film bistro setting.


If Le Paris-Beurre were located in Paris, it would be frequented by both locals and tourists looking for that fantasy French bistro. In Montreal, Le Paris-Beurre has relied on locals to fill its 65 seats. And increasingly, those locals are often grey-haired, owner Hubert Streicher said in a recent interview.


Now after 30 years in business, Le Paris-Beurre will be serving its last bavette and duck confit on Dec. 23. Streicher still hopes the restaurant will be sold, yet he’s not holding his breath. “Our sales fell over the last three years,” he said. “We have a very loyal customer base, but those customers are aging. And younger customers are now heading to bistros on Avenue Bernard.”


Normally, the closing of this Montreal institution would come as a surprise, but considering the number of iconic Montreal restaurants that have shuttered this year – big players including Le Continental, the Beaver Club, Globe, Le Latini and Magnan’s Tavern – Le Paris-Beurre is just another establishment to give up on the increasingly volatile Montreal restaurant scene.


Driving around the former popular restaurant neighbourhoods of our city, and seeing locale after locale with rent signs in the windows, it’s obvious the restaurant industry is hurting. It’s one thing when the bad restaurants close. A regular purging of the worst or the dated is to be expected. But now the good restaurants are hurting as well.


There are too many restaurants in Montreal and not enough customers”

– Restaurant owner Sylvie Lachance


Upon closing, restaurants like Magnan’s Tavern and Globe issued press releases that raised many of the same issues: road work, tax measures, staff shortages, skyrocketing food costs, parking woes, the increasing popularity of suburban restaurants and changing tastes. Add to that list a shrinking upscale tourist clientele, and there are sure to be more closings on the horizon. People have less cash to spend and more restaurants to choose from. Competition is fierce.


Tourism Montreal notes that ours is the city with the largest number of restaurants per capita in all of North America. According to François Meunier of the Association des Restaurateurs du Québec, the number of new restaurants with table service increased by 31 per cent from 2005 to 2012 in Montreal. Yet people are spending less. “Sales are down 4.2 per cent in full-service restaurants from last year,” Meunier said. “People don’t have money to spend. We don’t always like to admit it, but Quebec is a poor province.”


There’s a definite shift taking place on the Montreal restaurant scene and for many restaurateurs, the obstacles are looking insurmountable.


Up the street from Le Paris-Beurre is the restaurant Van Horne. Owner Sylvie Lachance was so discouraged by how the restaurant scene is evolving that she sent an open letter outlining her exasperation to various media outlets last May. “There are too many restaurants in Montreal and not enough customers,” her letter began, before outlining several trends she believed were holding her back from garnering the attention she deserved. Of her chef, Jens Ruoff, she wrote: “(He) is not a hipster, has no tattoos on his arms and does not serve homemade sausage on wood planks.” Of Van Horne’s marketing approach, she said: “We do not have cookbooks for sale, nor a sugar shack, much less a television show. We do not personally know Anthony Bourdain or René Redzepi.” She closed with the final thought: “We are not dying at Van Horne but it is unfortunate, given all the hard work we do, to be forgotten so often.”


Now, six months later, Lachance is still discouraged. “Are there too many restaurants in Montreal? Yes!” she said without hesitation. “Everyone is looking for staff. It has become the biggest problem. I have young chefs here who say, ‘I could go to you, Toqué! or Boulud.’ They can go anywhere. And I also see restaurants that open up that are constantly looking for chefs, waiters, bus boys. They don’t even staff their restaurants properly before opening. And as for chefs, they have to be everything these days: creative, good at marketing, eager to meet with suppliers, manage employees, calculate food cost. Good luck finding one who can do all that.”


Across town, Carlos Ferreira is facing many of the same concerns at his famous Peel St. restaurant, Ferreira Café. The restaurant’s lunch scene draws the elite downtown crowd. Dinner is equally popular. Now going on 18 years in business, Ferreira should be leaning back, counting the profits, happy with his multi-restaurant empire. Not quite.


“Montreal has become a restaurant city focused on fashions and trends,” he said between bites of grilled octopus at lunchtime recently. “New restaurants invest a lot in decor and ambience. In the past, the food in trendy restaurants like Prima Donna and Mediterraneo was very good. But today, it’s not serious. The ambience is exaggerated, the markups on alcohol too. A lot of those restaurants took their clients for granted and now they’re all closed. And today there is this new Griffintown phenomenon. If you don’t go to eat there, you are a loser!”


When asked if he thinks there are too many restaurants in Montreal, Ferreira nodded. The problem, he said, is a lack of direction. “We’re losing sight of what a restaurant should be,” Ferreira said. “People are opening restaurants without knowing the business.” Ferreira does know the business – he’s been drawing in customers to enjoy his modern Portuguese food coming up on 20 years. Next year, though, he will be re-evaluating his entire business. “In 2013, we served 1,800 fewer customers,” he said.


One of the problems now is that with the ongoing erosion of the high-end restaurant genre and the increasing popularity of casual dining, the middle ground is getting crowded. To Ferreira, restaurants can be divided into four categories: high-end (gastronomic), casual (bistros), cafés and fast-food. “The high-end restaurant is condemned,” he said, matter-of-factly. “They are too expensive and people say they’re very good but … boring. And if people go into a half-full restaurant, they don’t want to return.”


Another highly successful Montreal restaurant, Moishes, celebrated its 75th anniversary this year but has faced its share of challenges. Yet owner Lenny Lighter is not willing to blame the lack of business on the booming number of new restaurants. “Competition always makes me nervous,” Lighter said. “And not just another steakhouse but anyone in my price category. But where is that ‘too many restaurants’ statement going? We live in a free society. Anyone can open a business. It’s not for us to tell people what to do. You know what’s not good? Not enough restaurants. The more choices people have, the more interesting the game gets for everyone.”


To Lighter, there’s too much going on in Montreal lately to curtail entrepreneurial spirit. Young people willing to raise the capital and take the risk should do it, he said. “Some will close, there will be heartbreaks. But the ones that survive might just be the next big thing. We never know what the next Joe Beef will be or who the next Costas Spiliadis will be. Only the strong will survive. Competition is good. It raises the stakes.”


And yet the hurdles in the game may also make for an uneven playing field. Next August, Ferreira will face a lengthy construction period on Peel St. and the makeover of Ste-Catherine St., both of which he is dreading. “I understand it has to be done,” he said. “But it must be done intelligently, so that there is still access to businesses.”


The fear of being barricaded by a construction site is a prime concern for many a restaurateur. Even at arguably the city’s most popular restaurant right now, Joe Beef, construction worries loom large. “If the city ripped up the street in front of me here for three weeks,” said co-owner David McMillan, “I’d go under.”


At Thai Grill on the corner of St-Laurent Blvd. and Laurier Ave., owner Nicolas Scalera watched his business come to a halt when the sidewalks were widened. For four months, the entrance to his restaurant was accessible only by a small plank set over a mud pit. Construction, estimated to last a month, started in August yet only finished in early November. Scalera said customers not only petered out, many called to see if he was closed. “I paid $68,000 in taxes to the city last year. It would have been nice to see a break during construction.”


“I’ve been here for 17 years. I have some rights as well. But they don’t care,” Scalera said. “I had (city councillor) Alex Norris (for the Jeanne-Mance district) tell me right to my face that they don’t want people coming in from other areas or Laval to eat in restaurants in this area. He told me the Plateau is for the Plateau residents. I’d like the city to promote our restaurants instead of doing nothing to help us. Instead, I’ve seen a major decline in business. I will never open anything or invest in the Plateau again. It’s too risky. You could lose everything.”


Norris, the city councillor in question, disagrees. “The Plateau gets hundreds of thousands visiting our streets,” he said. “We encourage people from all over the city to frequent our businesses. It’s a densely populated neighbourhood, so we’ve had to manage the relationship between commercial endeavours and residents. To suggest we don’t want people to visit our neighbourhood is absurd.”


Inflated taxes didn’t help Le Paris-Beurre’s Streicher in Outremont, either. “I was charged $2,500 in taxes (this year) for my terrasse alone, and my terrasse is part of my restaurant, in the back courtyard, not on the street.” Van Horne’s Lachance is also disheartened by the lack of interest from the people who collect her tax dollars. “In Outremont where I am,” she said, “not one elected municipal representative has been to my restaurant. They go to the cheap restaurant down the street. I’ve served Tony Accurso, but I’ve never had any mayor or elected official in my restaurant. There is a lack of appreciation for our restaurant scene. People don’t talk about what show they went to anymore, but what restaurant they ate at. Restaurants are part of our culture now.”


When asked if he frequents restaurants in his neighbourhood, Norris could name only one, L’Express. “There are others,” he said. “I’ll have to get back to you.”


We’re losing sight of what a restaurant should be.”

– Carlos Ferreira


Even at the internationally acclaimed Joe Beef, Montreal officials have been scarce. “I’ve served three former prime ministers,” McMillan said. “The governor of Vermont has eaten at my restaurant four times, but not one Montreal mayor or one municipal councillor from my area has eaten at Joe Beef. The last five times I ate in restaurants in New York, three of the times I saw the mayor eating there, too.”


“I have taken note of the comments, and I am pleased to see that the people at Joe Beef’s want to see more of me,” Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said via email on Thursday. “I was happy to see them recently at the Corona Theatre, where they catered an event celebrating David Suzuki. Unfortunately, the last time I was near Joe Beef’s restaurant, I was in a hurry and went to eat at Dilallo Burger.”


“The city doesn’t understand how important the restaurants are in Montreal,” Ferreira said.


Lighter is less dismissive, though he does see a lack of interest from above. “They’re not understanding the risk people take,” Lighter said. “There are payroll taxes, property taxes, operating taxes, school taxes. Government should be supporting you, not always policing you. And ultimately, with more sales, they get more taxes. Good business is profitable for them, too.”


Despite the many factors hindering business, Montreal restaurateurs are not blaming customers. Client fidelity is at an all-time low, they say, yet they understand the desire to go out and eat around. “Montrealers follow the buzz,” Lachance said, “but they come back.”


And yet there is one clientele all restaurateurs would like to see more of: tourists. “There is gigantic work to be done,” Ferreira said. “The summer of 2014 was the worst summer for tourists. Tourism Montreal says it was a record year, but they are drawing in the cheap tourists. These people aren’t spending.”


Ferreira would like to see the city attract high-end conventions and tourists with money to spend by focusing more on the luxury market. “But no one will talk about that,” he said, discouraged.


Pierre Bellerose, vice-president of Tourism Montreal, agrees the restaurant scene is hurting but with about 6,500 restaurants in the city, that’s to be expected. “We have more restaurants per capita than New York,” he said. “But we’re a poor city. Many close, many open. It’s a lot to ask the population to support the industry.”


According to Bellerose, tourism is up 50 per cent from 20 years ago, and drawing visitors to the restaurant scene is one of the agency’s priorities. Bellerose said: “There is a good buzz about Montreal. It’s estimated that between 20 to 25 per cent of the clientele at high-end restaurants are tourists. There’s a lot of interest in food. But that interest varies. Some people just want smoked meat and poutine. And tourists are mostly circulating in the central areas of the city. We can’t follow them around and tell them where to go.”


McMillan thinks Tourism Montreal could find better ways to promote our restaurant scene. “Tourism Maine and Tourism New York follow me on social media, but not Tourism Montreal,” he said. “And they keep paying for these bloggers to come in and discover the city. Instead, why not send some of us chefs out to promote Montreal restaurants abroad at food festivals or even in embassies? I’ve never been asked to promote my city or cook in an embassy – and if asked, I would do it.”


And there is plenty here to promote. The New York-based website Eater.com recently dropped both their Toronto and Vancouver pages yet held on to their popular Montreal site. Though low on the high-end restaurant count, Montreal has an impressive number of chef-driven restaurants, with an increasing number of them drawing international attention to our scene. Plus, Montreal remains a far more affordable restaurant city than the likes of Paris, London or even Toronto – although the down side of being an affordable dining destination means less money in restaurant owners’ pockets (the ARQ estimates profits at a paltry 2.6 per cent).


“We should be a premier destination,” Lighter said. “We have a unique culture, a great reputation. But Montreal has suffered economically. We’re highly taxed. There’s not a lot of disposable income and it’s expensive to eat out. I sense there is a certain defensiveness restaurateurs have with customers, but we have to learn from customers, too. We always have to have our eyes and ears open, ready to adjust.”



Restaurants in Montreal: 6,500

People per restaurant in Montreal: 373

People per restaurant in New York City: 457

Increase in the number of new restaurants in Montreal from 2005 to 2012: 31 per cent

Decline in sales at full-service restaurants in 2013: 4.2 per cent

Sales at high-end Montreal restaurants from the tourism industry: 20 per cent

End-of-year profit margin on all sales for Montreal full-service restaurants: 2.6 per cent


Restaurants closing this year :

Le Paris-Beurre : The bistro on Van Horne Ave. in Outremont will close on Dec. 23

Le Continental : Closed in May

Le Latini : Closed in September

Beaver Club : Closed in March

Magnan Tavern : Will close on Dec. 21

Globe : Closed in September

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Another fear-mongering article from the gazette. I'm surprised they did not talk about Bill 101 and Montrealers moving to Toronto in droves.


Well, I think it's a pretty good article, it makes a fair assessment of the situation, with opinions on all sides.



I like that we have a lot to offer but I also notice that for any number of businesses that open up on Notre-Dame street in St-Henri or Little Burgundy, there are an overwhelming number of restos and bistros.


I guess one could argue there are so many people buying condos in the Old Montreal-Griffintown-St-Henri area that they will easily cater to all of them. I suppose it's OK but I want to see other types of establishments on the street.

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  • 3 weeks later...

via Radio-Canada


Les restaurateurs en crise, surtout à Montréal

Mise à jour le jeudi 11 décembre 2014 à 10 h 22 HNE


« Il y a beaucoup de gens naïfs et un peu innocents ». Le vice-président de l'Association des restaurateurs du Québec, François Meunier, n'y va pas avec le dos de la cuillère pour qualifier ceux qui se lancent en affaire dans cette période tumultueuse. L'industrie de la restauration vit une période aussi difficile qu'au lendemain de la crise économique.



Un texte de Thomas Gerbet


Vous marchez dans la rue et regardez à travers la vitre d'un restaurant. Les lumières sont allumées, le patron est là, debout, mais aucun client n'est assis aux tables. Cette scène n'a rien d'exceptionnel. Les restaurants ferment les uns après les autres.


Avec la période de restrictions budgétaires, les consommateurs coupent dans leurs dépenses non essentielles et c'est souvent la sortie au restaurant qui passe à la trappe. « On est vraiment dans un creux de la vague », constate François Meunier.


Selon les données de l'Association des restaurateurs du Québec, seuls 15 % des restaurants ouverts il y a neuf ans ont survécu.




Le vice-président de l'Association des restaurateurs en a long à dire sur les raisons de la crise de l'industrie à Montréal. « Quand on va exiger à n'importe quel boui-boui 7000 $ par mois pour louer un local, on n'y arrivera pas là », se plaint François Meunier. « Quand le Plateau s'en va avec des règlements qui empêchent des surfaces de dépasser 200 mètres carrés, vous allez vous retrouver avec uniquement des vendeurs de sandwichs et de cafés ».


« Montréal est en éternelle reconstruction. Quand on ferme votre rue pendant trois mois, c'est clair que dans le contexte actuel, c'est extrêmement difficile de pouvoir passer par-dessus »

— François Meunier, vice-président de l'ARQ


La rue Saint-Denis serait un des secteurs où les restaurateurs éprouvent le plus de difficultés. Et la situation risque d'empirer avec d'importants travaux d'égouts prévus dès 2015. À l'inverse, le quartier Griffintown est le secteur où les restaurants connaissent un boom actuellement.


« Il y a eu un boom Crescent, il y a eu un boom Saint-Denis, il y a eu un boom Vieux-Montréal, il y a eu un boom Mile-End, puis là on est rendu à Griffintown. Mais à chaque fois, c'est juste un transfert de clientèle », explique François Meunier.


Les restaurants de banlieue se portent mieux

« On est complet quatre soirs par semaine dans tous nos restaurants. Il faut réserver une semaine à l'avance » se réjouit Claude Labonté, le président du Groupe restos Dix30. Ses trois restaurants [Le Vestibule, La Tomate Blanche et L'Aurochs] affichent un chiffre d'affaires de 13 millions de dollars cette année.


Tous les restaurateurs ne connaissent pas le même succès en banlieue, mais le dynamisme y est plus présent qu'au centre-ville de Montréal. En proportion, depuis 10 ans, la croissance est deux fois plus forte en Montérégie et deux fois et demie à Laval.


« Il y a beaucoup de gens qui pensaient, dans le passé, qu'il fallait se rendre dans le centre-ville de Montréal pour avoir une nappe blanche ou un beau restaurant. Maintenant, on est en mesure de satisfaire cette clientèle-là, près de la maison »

— Maxime Caron-Labonté, directeur des opérations Groupe restos Dix30


En plus de ses restaurants, Claude Labonté préside le conseil d'administration du théâtre de l'Étoile, une salle de spectacle du Dix30 qui concurrence de plus en plus les salles montréalaises. Le stationnement gratuit ou les problèmes de circulation incitent les résidents de banlieue à rester en banlieue pour sortir. Selon lui, les restaurants de banlieue sont en train de vivre le même phénomène.

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Il est important de mentionner que c'est le revenu discrétionnaire (revenu moins impôts, taxes et dépenses essentielles) des gens qui détermine s'il vont au restaurant, en voyage, etc. Même avec un bon salaire, le contribuable québécois est le plus imposé en Amérique du Nord. Par exemple, un contribuable typique avec un revenu de 100 000$ envoie 46 000$ en impôts (provincial+fédéral), paie environ 3500$ en taxes municipales et scolaires. Après avoir payé son hypothèque, son auto, sa nourriture, son essence, etc. et en n'oubliant pas le 15% de taxes sur presque tout ce qu'il achète, il ne reste pas grand chose pour aller au restaurant.

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Il faut aussi regarder le nombre d'habitants par restaurant. Selon ces deux articles de 2012 et 2013 (je n'ai pas été cherché loin...), il y aurait 295 habitants par restaurant à Montréal, 350 habitants par restaurant à Québec, de 406 habitant par restaurant pour l'ensemble de Québec et 1000 habitants par restaurants à New York. Il y a peut être une saturation du marché qui expliquerait ces problèmes.


Voici les liens vers ces deux articles. J'ai pris des statistiques de un et de l'autre et le les ai inclues ici. Ces chiffres ne sont peut être plus bons.





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Bien entendu, il y a ceux qui sont très tendance à leur ouverture qui deviennent vite démodés car d'autres plus au goût du jour leur volent la vedette.

Puis il y en a d'autres qui sont ouverts depuis des décennies où ça fait toujours plaisir de les redécouvrir de temps en temps.

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Le problème avec Magnan c'est qu'ils pensent qu'un hamburger steak c'est encore de la haute gastronomie et que les gens sont prêts à se saigner pour y aller; ce concept ne fonctionne plus en ville, seulement en banlieue. Non mais c'est vrai, c'est juste moi ou quand je sors de Montréal, tout d'un coup Mikes, St-Hubert et Casa Grecque deviennent des références?

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Le problème avec Magnan c'est qu'ils pensent qu'un hamburger steak c'est encore de la haute gastronomie et que les gens sont prêts à se saigner pour y aller; ce concept ne fonctionne plus en ville, seulement en banlieue. Non mais c'est vrai, c'est juste moi ou quand je sors de Montréal, tout d'un coup Mikes, St-Hubert et Casa Grecque deviennent des références?


Ce qui me frappe dans l'article de la Gazette, c'est que la vieille garde des restaurateurs préfère se moquer des nouvelles tendances, des nouveaux chefs et de la nouvelle clientèle, plutôt que d'accepter que le marché, et l'offre, sont en transformation.


En caricaturant un peu, je m'en fou de la meilleure crème brûlée en ville. Je peux m'en faire chez nous, tout comme je peux me faire un bon risotto aux champignons ou bon steak. Du boudin maison sur une planche de bois, fait par un jeune chef tatoué? Ça a plus de chance d'être original, avec des ingrédients locaux, apprêté de manière intéressante. Pour prendre un exemple concret: le boudin d'un restaurant comme le Grain de Sel sera un plat plus intéressant et moins dispendieux qu'un repas classique dans un de ces restaurants prenant de l'âge. En bout de ligne, c'est ce qui distingue les bons restaurants en 2014: l'originalité. Surtout que les gens sont maintenant capables de cuisiner, de nos jours, et tout le monde en moyen à sa cuisine à 100 000$.


L'offre explose, et il n'y a visiblement pas assez de clientèle pour toutes les nouvelles adresses. Dans ces conditions, mieux vaut savoir attirer la clientèle chez soit. Les plus forts vont survivre. Surtout que la plupart des nouveaux projets à la survie pas évidente vont ouvrir sur l'île, parce qu'il y a les locaux commerciaux pour les accueillir, même si une bonne croissance de la clientèle est en banlieue. Dans ces conditions, ce n'est pas surprenant non plus qu'un endroit comme le DIX30 soit toujours plein, l'offre est relativement limitée (50 restos, moins que cela dans la catégorie dont on discute ici), compte tenu de l'achalandage et de l'écrasante importance de ce quartier dans une région très peuplée. Parlant du DIX30, c'est un peu curieux que le type interviewé dans l'article de Radio-Canada ne parle que de l'apparence du resto... J'imagine que c'est une question de marketing et de clientèle-cible.


Il y a plusieurs «classiques» qui vont arriver à se renouveler et à renouveler l'intérêt. Mais ça demande parfois de passer à un chef jeune et plein d'idées, de savoir changer un peu, et d'offrir une image attirante. Ce n'est pas en boudant la mode que ça va arriver.

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Honnêtement, on s'en contre-câlisse tu de leurs hostis de tattos! Ce que je veux c'est de la bonne bouffe. Hors, il est vrai que certains "chefs" sont magnifiés par les médias pcq ils ont un "look". Comme les merdes de Star Academy machin. Tout au look et à l'image. Désolant.

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