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Montreal’s family-run Fairmount Bagel celebrates a century in business

ABOVE: 100 years of Fairmount bagel

Montreal’s oldest bagel bakery, Fairmount Bagel, celebrated its 100th annviersary on Saturday.

Crowds gathered on Fairmount Street in front of the Montreal institution as owners of the family-run business put on a street party in honour of the milestone anniversary.

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Third-generation co-owners Irwin and Rhonda Shlafman said the festivities were touching and emotional for them and their family.

“It makes me think about all the hard work and the time spent on Fairmount Street and this building with my family,” Irwin said.

The bakery got its start in 1919, when grandfather Isadore Shlafman, recipe in hand, opened up a small bagel shop in Montreal.

Besides moving from the original location, Irwin says not much has changed since then — including the recipe that his father and grandfather used.

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Rhonda says the secret to the bakery’s success is the quality and homey feel of the establishment.

“It’s like coming into your grandmothers kitchen to get fresh baked warm bagels, ” Rhonda Shlafman said.

Quality, first and foremost, Irwin said, is their number one priory when it comes to bagels.

“We are primarily bagel people first and business people second,” Irwin said.

Fairmount Bagel opens on Fairmount Street in new location
Fairmount Bagel opens on Fairmount Street in new location Fairmount Bagel

The shop never closes. The fires of the wood-burning oven are constantly lit, 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year, rolling out thousands of fresh bagels across the city daily.

Even with its success, though, the family has never expanded, staying true to the grandfather’s old saying of “you cannot dance at two weddings at the same time.”

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“You can’t watch the quality of what is being produced in more than one place efficiently,” Irwin said.

The pursuit for consistency has created a name known around the world, as clients from all over seek to try the signature bagel.

“Let me just say, people talk about New York-style bagels. They don’t know what they are talking about,” Devin Scholefield said, biting down into a warm poppy seed bagel.

“Montreal bagels are objectively the better bagel.”

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Fairmount Bagel was one of the first stops on their Montreal trip for English tourists Katy Tomlinson and Max Forest.

“I think having bagels like this makes you realize how bad most other bagels are, ” Tomlinson said.

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Keeping true to tradition, the century-old business has had to evolve over the years.

Significant testing and engineering went into the bakery’s chimney, Shlafman said.  A unique ventilation system was installed to reduce the amount of carbon emitted by the wood-burning oven.

“We are completely green we don’t pollute anymore,” Rhonda Shlafman said.

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“All of the smoke is filtered and we comply completely with the city’s requirements.”

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As for the future of the business, the torch is expected to be passed down to the fourth generation of Shlafmans.

“Nobody knows what the future will hold, but that is the plan,” Irwin Shlafman said.

“Time will tell.”