The Jew And The Carrot

Montreal's Famed Schwartz's Deli Set To Sell

By Michael Kaminer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Flickr: jofo2005

Schwartz’s Charcuterie Hebraique de Montreal Inc. — “Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen of Montreal” — has been one of the few constants on mercurial Boulevard St-Laurent, the storied street whose low-slung storefronts loom large in Montreal’s Jewish-immigrant history. The oldest deli in Canada, Schwartz’s has evolved from a heymish neighborhood haunt to a bona fide destination whose devotees include food adventurer Anthony Bourdain.

But change is finally coming to Schwartz’s, according to the Montreal Gazette. Owner Hy Diamond, who took over the iconic 84-year-old deli in 1990, is set to sell the place to a group of investors headed by Montreal restaurateur Paul Nakis, the money behind several local dining chains. Rene Angelil, otherwise known as Mr. Celine Dion, is reported to be one of the investment partners.

Diamond had resisted expanding the eatery beyond its single location but local observers are speculating that plans for a Schwartz’s franchise may be in the works. “If the purported price of $10 million is correct, I’m guessing that for that amount of money, they might want to do something with the brand,” said Bill Brownstein, the Gazette columnist whose bestseller Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story inspired a hugely popular stage musical last year.

Opened in 1928 by Romanian Jewish immigrant Reuben Schwartz, Schwartz’s star has barely dimmed since; lines continue to snake out the door, and on summer weekends, tourists wait patiently for a turn at one of the famously cramped tables or bustling counter inside the diminutive deli. It’s hard to overstate the social, cultural, and culinary significance of Schwartz’s. For lovers of smoked meat, the Montreal delicacy of cured, salted beef that’s the cousin of pastrami, Schwartz’s has been the standard-bearer in a sea of imitators and mass-produced packaged meats. For local Jews, Schwartz’s has been a symbolic link to a rich Eastern-European immigrant past that’s fast fading in a part of town that continues to gentrify at warp speed. And for Montrealers in general, the place still represents a kind of authenticity at a time when international chains are invading the local landscape.

“It’s one of the few Montreal landmarks that’s known around the world, maybe along with Celine Dion and Cirque de Soleil,” Brownstein told the Forward. “Delis have come and gone. But the cachet is that Schwartz’s is a little hole in the wall that’ll never make it into the pages of Architectural Digest. It’s the kind of nostalgia that people relate to.”

For me, Schwartz’s holds very particular childhood memories; before St. Lawrence Street — as it was then called — went glam, it was the anchor of a gritty district where immigrant-owned produce shops and fish stores abutted discount clothing emporia and Portuguese bakeries. Since my grandfather and father were involved in some of the factories nearby — many of which have now converted to lofts or gallery space — a smoked-meat sandwich at Schwartz’s was the treat after hours at their workplace. The smoked meat was addictive, along with superlative pickles and floppy Montreal French fries.

If Schwartz’s does franchise, Brownstein doesn’t think it’ll bode well for the deli or its customers. “I don’t think you can do quality control on that scale. Schwartz’s works because it’s one location. There are no preservatives or chemicals. There’s 80 years of flavor embedded in its smokehouse. I don’t think you can replicate that with stainless steel,” he said. “You’d also lose that democratic element of lineups and strangers pushed against each other at the same table.”

In the meantime, plans are underway for another expansion — of Brownstein’s deli-inspired musical, Schwartz’s: The Musical. The show will be produced in Montreal again this year, and may debut in Toronto. But no changes are planned. “The musical is fixed in a certain time period,” Brownstein said. “If anything, the theme is more relevant than ever: fear of franchise.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Schwartz's Deli

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.