Coronavirus: Montreal’s iconic Moishes steakhouse closes after 83 years

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Iconic Montreal restaurant closing its doors
WATCH: It has been a staple on the main for 83 years, but Moishes' restaurant has served up its last steak for a while. The owners of the venerable eatery have decided not to re-open during the pandemic and will be moving to a new location. Global's Felicia Parrillo has the story – Aug 19, 2020

Its venerable location on St-Laurent Boulevard has weathered a world war, two independence referenda and the 2008 financial crisis, but in the end, it was the novel coronavirus pandemic that forced Montreal’s Moishes steakhouse to close its doors.

Moishes owner Lenny Lighter confirmed the restaurant’s closure to Global News in an interview Wednesday.

He said the restaurant’s lease was set to expire at the end of December, and it had already secured a new location in Victoria Square downtown. Construction on the new restaurant had begun on Aug.1.

“That was our plan,” he explained. “To stay open, move the restaurant, and continue operations in that new location, and due to Covid, everything got upended.”

Lighter emphasized that the restaurant is not disappearing forever, and that the original plans to move to a new location will go ahead — just not right now.

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“To have that kind of capital expenditure, with so much uncertainty ahead of us, just doesn’t make sense,” he explained. “So we’re going to take the time, and see how things will unfold, when they’ll unfold.”

“Will there be a vaccine? And will we get back to normal sooner, rather than later? Or will there be a second wave, and will these things be delayed? Nobody knows.”

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For the time being, fans of the restaurant will see the iconic brand survive only in its pre-packaged products found in grocery stores.

Emily Robertson, president of the Saint-Laurent Boulevard merchants’ association said the closure will definitely leave a void on the street that will be hard to fill.

“When you think about filet mignon – you think about Moishes,” she said. “So it’s a huge disappointment to be losing this kind of icon.”

The news may not be too surprising to Moishes’s many regulars — many predicted the days on St-Laurent, or the Main, were numbered after the restaurant was purchased in late 2018 by Sportscene, the company that operates the Cage Aux Sports chain.

Lighter said the restaurant hit financial turbulence when the COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants across Quebec to close their dining rooms for over three months. And by the time they were given the green light to resume operations, it was too late.

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In early July, just days after restaurants in the Greater Montreal region were permitted to reopen their doors, Moishes told customers on its Facebook page that it wasn’t ready to welcome them back just yet.

“We’re currently evaluating all options that would enable us to provide the distinctive Moishes experience in a safe and inviting setting for all,” the post read at the time.

Food critic, Lesley Chesterman says Montrealers will surely miss the famous dining room.

“They are going to open up elsewhere and they are going to try to recapture that magic but no matter what that original location where the restaurant was for some 80 years – that’s going to be a loss for Montrealers who love that room,” she said.

That famous room was frequented by politicians and celebrities from around the world.

From within those walls, there have been countless stories to tell.

“There is kind of a famous story about Moishes,” said Chesterman. “I think it was post-referendum when Jacques Parizeau walked in for dinner and I believe he was booed.

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Despite the restaurant’s disappearance from St-Laurent, Lighter assured Global News the Moishes experience will live again, saying his message to clients is “just wait.”

“You know, many years ago we had a fire, in 1980, and we were closed for four months,” he said. “We came back.”

“Over time, we look back, and it was just a hiccup in our history, and hopefully, many years in the future, when we look back at this [time], we’ll just see it as the same thing.”

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