Words: Immanuel Matthews & Gregory Caltabanis
Photos: Julien Ponsard
Montreal–the home of renowned gastronomic destinations like Moishes and Toqué!–is known for its dense, diverse restaurant scene. However it’s the city’s 24-hour restaurant scene that powers its food engine overnight, feeding late-night shift workers, people out on the town, and students pulling all nighters.
While Montreal has too many 24-hour restaurants to count on two hands, Paulo and Suzanne’s in Ahuntsic-Cartierville and La Banquise in the Plateau-Mont-Royal are two bustling dining hubs that have established what it takes to run a successful food business that never sleeps.
La Banquise, every poutine lover’s dream, actually started out as an ice cream shop in May 1968, with the same concept it holds today: open and ready to feed hungry diners all hours of the day. A few months later, the restaurant’s then-owner, Pierre Barsalou, decided to make the switch from ice cream spot to snack bar, to help attract more customers.
“He worked as a firefighter just in front of the restaurant. It was easy for him to come at the end of his shift to the restaurant,” recalled Barsalou’s daughter, Annie.
These fresh-cut fries are about to transform into some of La Banquise’s signature poutines.
Today, Annie Barsalou co-owns the restaurant with Marc Latendresse. Together, they have grown Pierre’s humble business into one of Montreal’s most famous 24-hour food institutions. When she took over in 1994 there were only six people working there.
Twenty-five years later, the staff has grown to 95.
To deal with the demands of a restaurant that never closes, Barsalou and Latendresse have worked tirelessly to optimize how everything is organized, from the scheduled shifts to the food preparation.
“We try to organize our place. In the morning, we have a team that does all the preparation for the day—so basically, the [preparation] of the vegetables, the meat and everything else,” said Barsalou.
The staff’s shifts are separated into three eight-hour sections: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.. To ensure there’s a coherent chain of command and that everything gets done, they appoint one head chef to each shift. It’s an important position, as they are responsible for both the kitchen staff and the waiters, for offering support, and acting as the restaurant’s leader during their shift.
According to Marc-Antoine Dumont, one of the managers at La Banquise, they remain up-to-date and organized with a designated binder.
“We fill the binder with the information of the staff, the equipment, the products, and the flow [of that specific shift]. That binder is crucial,” Dumont said.
“We start getting busy around noon, and all day long it will be busy until the next morning. All the preparation is done on the morning shift. And after that, we treat individual orders,” Barsalou explained. “That’s how our kitchen works.”
La Banquise needs large quantities of one of their most prized ingredients, potato fries, to fulfill customers’ poutine orders throughout the day and night.
Santiago Uribe, a Concordia University political science student and La Banquise regular, understands the challenges that come with a 24-hour hot spot.
“If you go to La Banquise at a reasonable time such as 8 p.m., the service will be just as good as any other non-24-hour restaurant,” said Uribe. “After 3 a.m. you can’t expect the same, as the waiters have to deal with large groups of intoxicated customers.”
Regardless of the time of day, though, Uribe thinks La Banquise and its extensive menu of poutine variations always leave the customer satisfied.
“They should keep up the good work! Their restaurant has a well deserved place in every Montrealer’s heart,” said Uribe.
A cook at La Banquise ties the fries and cheese curds in a poutine together by ladeling plenty of gravy on top.
Located about 14 kilometres northwest of La Banquise is Paulo and Suzanne’s—another staple for Montreal late-night foodies. The Ahunstic-Cartierville restaurant, like La Banquise, runs all day and all night.
Originally named after Suzanne Duquette and Paulo Choquette, the restaurant’s first owners, the establishment has been around since 1980, serving breakfast, trademark poutines and hamburgers during all hours of the day. Prior to serving food, Paulo and Suzanne’s was a tobacco shop.
“Making sure the food is consistent regardless of what day or what time you eat here is a challenge,” said Angelo Serfas, Paulo and Suzanne’s current owner. “We’re a close-knit crew. Regardless of the shift, they look out for each other.”
Similarly to La Banquise, Paulo and Suzanne’s management breaks up the day into equal chunks to help their employees pick up where their colleagues left off. “It’s not like any other place where, when you shut down for the day, you can do prep and clean-up,” said Serfas.
Paulo and Suzanne’s staff rarely gets a moment’s rest. As one of the only 24-hour establishments in Ahuntsic-Cartierville and located right in front of the Sacré-Coeur Hospital, they always tend to have a steady stream of people to feed.
“Customers come at us in waves,” said Serfas. “Some people may be coming in at 6 a.m. for their dinner or lunch, while others may be coming in at 7 p.m. for breakfast.”
La Banquise’s eclectic and colourful vibe welcomes hungry customers.
Laura Mejia, a regular Paulo and Suzanne’s client and McGill Education student, has had memorable moments at the restaurant.
“After a night out, my friends and I love pigging out over there,” said Mejia. “Best drunk food in Montreal, without a doubt.”
While running a 24-hour establishment can certainly have its challenges, Serfas said seeing all of the familiar faces in his restaurant’s booths make it all worthwhile.
“Everyone wants to go to a place where everyone knows their name, like the Cheers slogan,” said Serfas. “We’ve got plenty of regulars. We’re at a point where we’re getting second and third generations of families coming in to eat.”
While running a 24-hour establishment may seem like a colossal task to the average person, Serfas claims it can be quite simple when you stick well-established plans. “At almost 40 years, why rock the boat,” said Serfas. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”
Just last week, a shortage in staff and constant demand meant Catherine—another one of Barsalou’s long-serving managers at La Banquise—worked 19 hours straight, helping out wherever she was needed. By the end of her shift, she worked in the kitchen, as a hostess, as a manager, and everywhere in-between. As chef Dumont put it, that’s not exactly an unusual occurrence in the 24-hour restaurant scene.
“You know at what time you start, but never know exactly at what time you finish,” said Dumont.