Brownstein: Moishes bids adieu to the Main

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But Lenny Lighter pledges the famous Montreal steakhouse will return. “I don’t know where. I don’t know when. But we will be back.”

Bill Brownstein  •  Montreal GazettePublishing date:Aug 19, 2020  

“Yes, we’re part of St-Laurent Blvd. Yes, we’re part of the Plateau,” says Moishes’ Lenny Lighter. “But as a business, we wanted to do more.” PHOTO BY PIERRE OBENDRAUF / Montreal Gazette files

Say bye-bye to Moishes on the Main. There will forever be an empty hole on Montreal’s most storied boulevard.  Moishes’ Lenny Lighter confirmed Tuesday that the iconic steakhouse, closed since the start of the pandemic, won’t reopen on the Main. Moishes, by far the city’s oldest fine-dining eatery operating out of the same spot, had managed to stay operational during the Second World War, the 1998 ice storm and recessions over the course of its 83 years on the street, but this is the end of the line at that locatio

However, Lighter has pledged Moishes will return. “I don’t know where. I don’t know when. But we will be back.”  Moishes is viewed by many as the premier steakhouse not only in the city, but on the planet, having been included on no less than Forbes magazine’s Top 10 list of sirloin joints.  The building that houses Moishes was sold last year. The restaurant lease expires in December.    Moishes, previously owned by the Lighter family, was sold to the Sportscene Group in December 2018, with Lenny Lighter staying on as the restaurant’s corporate director.  

The plan had been to relocate Moishes to a new facility at Victoria Square, in the same building as Toqué!, another Montreal classic. Sportscene had been set to invest nearly $5 million in the new Moishes, with construction to begin Aug. 1 and opening set for October or November. Then came the pandemic, and all bets were off. Sportscene is also owner of La Cage, which cut 30 per cent of its workforce and closed four restaurants in July.  Sportscene’s major interest in initially acquiring Moishes had more to do with the retail side of the operation. More than 30 Moishes products, including pickles, coleslaw and steaks, are sold in Quebec at IGA and Costco as well as in other provinces, representing a far larger share of revenues — estimated at about 75 per cent — than the restaurant itself.  Lighter had been much in favour of moving Moishes from the Main.   “Yes, we’re part of St-Laurent Blvd. Yes, we’re part of the Plateau,” Lighter said. “But as a business, we wanted to do more. And to do that, we wanted to do lunch, which wasn’t really possible at our location, because we’re 100 per cent destination. So over the years, I had been looking for other locations where we could do lunches and 5-à-7s and have a nice terrasse.  “Part of the attraction in our marriage to Sportscene was they were fully on line with wanting to move Moishes, from a business and brand perspective. And they were fully committed to building a new Moishes. We really felt that for the next 80 years Moishes had to be somewhere else. We were moving down that path, and all the plans had been done for the restaurant. We were really bullish on the move. Then COVID hits, and everything changes.” 

As it has for just about every restaurant in the city.  “No one is spending that kind of money on building a restaurant in this day and age, when lunch is not working for anybody in the city and when dinner is 50 per cent at best. So where we are now is on hold. We will see how things develop. We will be looking for new opportunity. But Moishes is coming back. It’s important for me and my legacy, and it’s important for Sportscene. It’s also imperative to reunite our work family, which is my family.”  In lieu of offering takeout since closing in March, Moishes — with the volunteer help of family and workers — had been making meals for the homeless and front-line health-care workers.  The genesis of Moishes is the stuff of novels. Moishe Lighter, a one-time busboy and father of Lenny, had acquired the steakhouse — originally known as the Romanian Paradise — after winning it from his boss in a poker game.  Moishes quickly became a fixture for generations of families who craved familiarity, not to mention filet mignon. It also became a magnet for politicos and showbiz personalities, both local and international.   Times may change, but Moishes on the Main will be much missed. It could well prove daunting to replicate the restaurant elsewhere, with its distinctive ornate mahogany wood surfaces, tin ceiling and red-brick walls. Not to mention its old-world charm and warmth, built up over more than four decades, which had seen local history change almost everywhere else but there.