How do you get to be an institution, especially in the ultra-competitive restaurant business? Hymie Sckolnick and his wife, Freda started Beautys Luncheonette in 1942, at the corner of Mont-Royal and Saint-Urbain, serving breakfast and lunch to a local working-class clientele. On one side of the medium-size restaurant are booths and tables; a long counter with classic stools runs the length of the other side. Behind the counter is the food prep area, with its embossed stainless steel backsplash. Renovations in 1982 refreshed the look while maintaining the original spirit of the place. Menu favourites include pancakes, waffles, and French toast with maple syrup. Or you can have the bagel and lox special, Freda’s famous Mish-Mash omelette, and assorted smoothies, served in thick, squared-off glasses. You would think it was still 1942. Or almost. There is something comforting about that in our busy, time-driven society. Hymie was smart to focus on what he did best and avoid distractions. He never opened other branches; Beautys never became a chain; it never moved from its original spot. This all lends the restaurant the kind of authenticity that CNN’s celebrated chef and author, Anthony Bourdain, enjoyed when he stopped by.
Hymie’s only son, Larry, took over the reins a few years ago and is now serving a third, and even fourth, generation of customers. Primarily English-speaking in its origins, Beautys now welcomes an equal number of French speakers in an atmosphere so typical to Montreal, just like you would find at Schwartz’s or Moishes, a little further south on Saint-Laurent. All are firmly anchored in their neighbourhood, but a restaurant still going strong after 73 years is a remarkable achievement in a trendy market like Montreal, where chefs move from one hip location to the next, following the latest foodie fad. Keeping things going at the same address is truly no small feat. Yet Hymie still does it, day after day. Still alert at 93, he comes in every day to take phone orders and offer advice. Such a phenomenon has a name : resilience! This Montreal-born son of a Russian immigrant had a dream that he transformed into a passion, and he continues to live it to this day, to everyone’s great delight. Pass by any weekend or holiday, and you can see the line-up of hungry folks, waiting patiently for brunch on the same old street corner. Just like the old days.
By: Pierre Deschênes