By: Mike Cohen
The story goes as follows. Dominic “Dick” Potenza was born in West Virginia and grew up in Utica, New York. He became well known in the Rochester – Buffalo area during the ’40s as a head-waiter in the supper-club-type restaurants of the era. It was at one of these supper clubs that he met his future wife, jazz accordionist Ann Collecchia, who performed using the stage name of Ann Russell. Together, they envisioned a fast food restaurant that would serve an original-style hamburger with their own special sauce. After much thought, this original style hamburger took the form of a toasted bun containing a thin patty that would cook quickly. After they modified and combined two recipes that they brought with them from Rochester, Dick and Ann developed their famous hot sauce.
In 1954, the couple moved to Montreal and opened the first Dic Ann’s, which was no more than a “hamburger shack” located on the corner of Cremazie and Papineau. Two years later, the success of this small location convinced them to move to larger premises in Montreal North. Initially open only in summer as a drive-in with car service, it was later renovated to allow year-round operation. In 1981, Dic Ann’s opened a larger operation in Chomedey, Laval, followed by Ville d’Anjou (1994), Terrebonne (1995), St-Jerome (1996), Repentigny (2000), Auteuil (2001), Longueuil (2004), NDG (2006), St. Eustache (2008), Ste-Thérèse (2012), Old Port (2013) and Marché Centrale (2013). They also have a food truck.
Last week I decided to take a drive to Chomedey and Boulevard Curé Labelle. This Dic Ann’s has a large parking lot. I went to meet cousins Delbina Potenza and Anthony Zammit, the third generation of the family business founded by their grandparents. While I could not resist the offer to enjoy two delicious cheeseburgers, fries and a Pepsi, the big news is that starting this June, fans of Dic Ann’s restaurants will be able to buy their famous sauce in Metro grocery stores across Quebec to reproduce the taste of their favourite hamburger in the comfort of their own home. I took home a jar, warmed some sauce up and used it on my own burgers and wow what a treat!
The sauce has actually been sold at the cash at all Dic Ann’s locations since last December. Delbina and Anthony said they will be watching closely to see which Metro spots sell the most sauces (they will not necessarily be available at each one, so you can ask the manager). If, for example, at the NDG Metro near my home sales go well maybe the West End will get a Dic Ann’s franchise again. There was one on St. Jacques Street West, but it closed when the multi-year construction project for the Ville Marie Expressway kept any car traffic away from the area.
“We spent our evenings hand-filling the thousands of jars of sauce and putting the labels on ourselves,” says Delbina Potenza. “It made for a nice exciting project for us during the pandemic.”
The idea to offer the sauce separately came with the high demand for deliveries during the pandemic. “Our hamburger is really better when the sauce is added at the last minute to keep the bun from getting too soft,” Anthony Zammit explains. “So we started offering it in a separate container for deliveries, and then the idea came up to sell it to our restaurants.”
“Our original intention was to bring a little happiness into people’s homes during the pandemic,” adds Delbin. “Families are cooking at home more and more since the restaurants closed, so it was the perfect opportunity to launch the sauce in grocery stores.”
The story behind the famous sauce
When Dick and Ann decided to open a hamburger restaurant in Montreal, they enlisted the help of the chef from the restaurant where Dick worked to develop a sauce recipe. They did some trial runs and taste tests with their friends and chose the most popular one.
“We have a sauce like you can’t find anywhere else,” Anthony boasts. “Not too runny, not too thick and the meaty taste of our sauce is really unique.”
Dic Ann’s customers know how important quality ingredients are to the company. The sauce is made with pure spices from India and fresh ingredients. The recipe has never changed since the company began in 1954. The Potenza family used Dic Ann’s sauce in many recipes, not just burgers. One of their favorite recipes was to mix the sauce with beef or pork in the slow cooker to make delicious pulled meat, or to cook very thin slices of roast beef in the sauce to make a sandwich served on a baguette.
“There are so many delicious ways to enjoy our sauce,” says Anthony. “Our community shares with us on social media their favorite ways to cook with our sauce and we are always pleasantly surprised by their creativity.”
My brother-in-law grew up in Chomedey and always returns to Dic Ann’s on visits back home. When he saw me order a burger with no Dic Ann’s sauced one time, he was upset! “That is sacrilegious,” laughed Anthony.
Dic Ann’s Original Sauce is sold for $7.99 for 550 ml in Dic Ann’s restaurants now and in Metro grocery stores this June.
I sat down with Delbina and Anthony on the small terrasse, which will soon be up and running again for clients. But for Dic Ann’s, the pandemic did not really impact business badly. “We were built for take-out,” said Anthony. “Customers often eat in their car anyhow or bring orders back for their family. We started using DoorDash for home deliveries and that turned out to be a big success.”