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Mike Cohen returns to the world-famous Schwartz’s Deli

    My brother-in-law Rich Lenkov is a Chomedey native who has practiced law in Chicago for the past two decades. When he returns home for a visit, Montreal’s iconic Schwartz’s Deli is always one of his first stops.

    I had not been to the St. Laurent Boulevard eatery in a few years, so I was excited to experience the world-famous eatery where General Manager Frank Silva greeted us at the door while he carefully cut smoked meat and pointed us towards a table at the back of the restaurant. There was a nice line to get in snaked up the street and next door the takeout counter was packed as well. A beautiful young lady came to take our order. Twenty-seven-year-old Traci Silva is Frank’s daughter. Her two brothers, Sean and Brian, work there too. Frank has been on board for 37 years. The kids are actually the third generation as his dad started off the family tradition.

    Left to right: Sean, Frank, Traci and Brian Silva behind the counter.

    “My dad’s name was Alberto, he was grill man in the days when Schwartz’s was known as a steak house.” Frank explained.  “He was also the backup smoked meat cutter.  He came to Canada in 1971 with three children and no money and passed away in 1991 at the age of 56 from cancer.” 

    Traci said she and her brothers did indeed grow up at Schwartz’s. “We often went there as children to see my dad of course, but the rest of the staff as well,” she recalls. “We had grown so close to them through all the staff parties at my parent’s house and in our big backyard at the time.  We were introduced to most of the staff who were young bachelors then and now most of them are married, some have moved across the country, and some have children.  We’ve seen the generations come and go at Schwartz’s.”  

    Brian, 23, the youngest has been at Schwartz’s for eight years, he’s now a cutter and waiter and is currently at Dawson College in Civil Engineering.  Sean, 28, has been on board for 12 years and is currently a waiter on the weekends and handles social media. He has a full-time job in transportation and logistics.  Traci has worked at Schwartz’s for eight years as well. She is only the second waitress in Schwartz’s history. Her true passion is in the classroom. She taught English in Colombia for a year and aspires to get back into that profession very soon.

    The Restaurant’s Storied History

    The restaurant was established in 1928 by Romanian-Jewish immigrant Reuben Schwartz. He took on a partner named Maurice Zbriger, who eventually became the sole owner. My late dad at one-point befriended Zbriger and I remember many occasions when he had us as his guests. Upon Zbriger’s death his caregiver Armande Chartrand assumed ownership. She would sell it 18 years later to Hy Diamond, a chartered accountant by profession whom I was lucky to get to know. He invited me as his guest several times. Paul Nakis and Céline Dion bought the place in 2012 but did not change a thing. With Frank Silva at the helm, it has the same charm as day one. Despite rumours that Schwartz’s would expand that would not expand and as the 90th anniversary draws near on December 31 it is highly unlikely to happen.

    Celine Dion

    Favorite Menu Items

    The menu at Schwartz’s is posted on a big board behind the counter. They do serve steaks here, but like Rich, I ordered a smoked meat sandwich, with fries and a Cott Black Cherry. This represents the popular choice. Rich added a grilled karnatzel and Traci also brought us a deliciously grilled frankfurter cut down the middle with two pieces of rye bread and of course mustard.  The smoked meat almost melts in your mouth it is so good!  I will try a steak next time.

    The sign on the marquee   says “Charcuterie Hebraique de Montreal” (Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen). But everyone knows this is Schwartz’s.

    Films, Books and Stage

    Twelve years ago, noted filmmakers Garry Beitel, Barry Lazar and Richard Elson were so fascinated with this Montreal institution that they decided to make a documentary about it. The result was Chez Schwartz, which tool viewers inside a year in the life of the unique landmark on the Main. Filmed through changing seasons, from the quiet of early morning preparation to the frenetic bustle of packed lunchtimes and never-ending line-ups to the more relaxed ambience late at night – Chez Schwartz is an evocative, cinematic portrait of a small spunky deli known worldwide equally for its atmosphere and smoked meat.

    The documentary on Schwartz’s came out around the same time as a book Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story, by Montreal Gazette columnist Bill Brownstein.  

    Next came the Centaur Theatre’s stage version of the Brownstein publication called Schwartz’s The Musical featuring the outstanding comedy duo of Bowser & Blue and a full cast of larger-than-life characters. By popular demand it was brought back to the Centaur for a limited engagement in December 2018.   

     Schwartz’s Deli is located at 3895 Boul. Saint-Laurent. Hours of operation are 8 am to 12:30 am Sunday to Thursday, 8 am to 1:30 am Fridays and 8 am to 2:30 am Saturdays. For more log on to www.schwartzsdeli.com  or call information call 514-842-4813.

    Mike Cohen

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