Décarie Hot Dogs in the Saint-Laurent borough has been a Montreal favourite for more than half a century, and they’ve just been bestowed a prestigious honour.
A province-wide contest has declared them to be Quebec casse-croûte royalty.
“I was very happy about that. I’m ecstatic,” said Tom Vriniotis, one of the owners of the family-run business.
Very little has changed at Décarie Hot Dogs since it opened on Décarie Boulevard back in 1969.
The menu is the original hand-painted one, spelling mistakes and all. The hot dogs are still the star, and Vriniotis and his sister Sofia are still making them in the institution founded by their Greek immigrant parents.
“I think I was eight maybe when I first started, you know, flipping burgers, serving fries, giving drinks,” Tom said in an interview at the eatery Thursday.
The prices have changed a bit since it was 15 cents for a hot dog, 25 cents for two.
A humble dish called poutine was introduced about 35 years ago.
“Poutine was the only menu change we’ve had ever since we opened,” said Vriniotis, underlining the massive popularity of the dish.
Other than that, it’s the same old formula at the mom-and-pop shop. That’s what Décarie Hot Dogs says just got them voted best casse-croûte in Quebec in a contest put on by Lesters Hot Dogs. It was decided by fan voting, and Vriniotis says Décarie Hot Dogs received double the votes as the second-highest vote-getter.
Winning the contest because of their loyal customers is special for the Vriniotis family.
“It’s the fact that people appreciate the effort that we put into it. I think they showed this by voting for us, by supporting us,” said Tom.
“I’m very appreciative to all the customers, they’re the ones who make this happen. They support us, they believe in us. They’ve seen all the dedication we put in but they’re dedicated to us the same amount,” said Sofia.
Tom said he appreciates how Lesters Hot Dogs wanted to shine a light on small, mom-and-pop restaurants across the province as opposed to large chains.
“The people that work in these mom-and-pop restaurants and stores pour heart and soul into their businesses and it takes a toll on their families. It takes a toll on them. It’s nice when people show their appreciation for people and their efforts. I appreciate it,” he said.
Spending long days in front of a hot grill for decades on end is hard work. The love they get from multiple generations of loyal customers keeps them going, they said. On a daily basis, customers come in and speak about how they have been frequenting the establishment for decades. People explain that they were introduced to it by their parents or grandparents.
“I hear those stories every day. It’s nice to hear because you realize that people have made it part of their lives. That’s and that’s the connection that we all strive for,” said Tom.
One such customer, 35-year-old Olivier Mallette, came in with his mother. They’ve both been loyal patrons for decades.
“I’m glad that the fruits of their efforts are being rewarded. I’m not surprised they won an award because they put a lot of hard work into what they do,” Mallette said.
Keeping the business in the family for yet another generation, Tom’s 16-year-old son Perry started working at Décarie Hot Dogs when he was eight years old.
“It’s not only us that won this competition or these awards, it’s also the customers that won it with us,” he said. His brother and sister also work shifts.
Perry says working there teaches him lessons he could never learn in school, and is amazed by the hard work of his grandparents, who only recently retired, and all those who came after.
“The amount of countless hours, the tears and blood that was shed into this place, it’s something that’s really breathtaking,” he said.
Perry says he hopes someday the restaurant gets passed down to his children.