After over 70 years in business, you’re really not a true Montrealer until you’ve eaten at Beauty’s. My grandmother would always tell me stories about sharing a milkshake with her friends, my parents have always eaten there, and you can see the younger generations loading up on brunch on the weekends. So what makes Beauty’s the ultimate Montreal landmark?
Walking into Beauty’s is like walking into an alternate reality, where everyone is always happy, relaxed and well-fed. Beauty’s is only open during the day, so only when the sun is shining through the windows. Even with the incredible efficiency of the kitchen and the servers, and the occasional Hymie asking you to get up if you take too long to leave when there’s a line, there is not one ounce of feeling “unwelcome” at Beauty’s.
Part of the homey feeling of Beauty’s is that there are hardly ever new faces greeting you. Right from the start, Fatima, the local crossing guard, greets you with the biggest and warmest smile, even when it gets to be freezing cold outside. Every day, Hymie sits at the first stool at the bar, asks how many of you there are and shows you to your table. Either Hymie’s son or granddaughter will always be there, or both during busy times. The staff is productively small and well-trained, making sure the restaurant runs like a well-oiled machine, while still being friendly. To top it all off, you can literally feel the countless people who have been there before you in the dented and worn-in blue booth seat cushions.
In 1942, Hymie and Freda Sckolnick unwittingly created what would become a Montreal institution when they bought the Bancroft Stationary store at the corner of St. Urbain and Mont Royal. Freshly married, they started making lunch for the garment workers in the surrounding Jewish garment district, or the “Jewish ghetto,” as Hymie referred to it. What started as a small service grew in popularity remarkably quickly, with greater and greater demand for Freda’s fast and delicious lunches. For the local patrons, having Freda’s cooking during the week wasn’t enough. A testament to the quality of the food, the local customers started showing up on Sundays for breakfast, and a testament to their hospitality, Hymie and Freda gladly served them breakfast, inaugurating a Montreal staple: Sunday brunch at Beauty’s.
Bancroft Stationary eventually became Bancroft Coffee Shop, but that’s not how the locals knew it. To the regular frequenters of the busy lunch spot, it was “Beauty’s” —referring to Hymie’s bowling nickname, “Beauty.” As the business evolved, Freda came up with the Beauty’s Special and the Mishmash, which would become the two most famous dishes at Beauty’s: a St. Viateur bagel with lox, cream cheese, tomato, and onion and an omelet with hot dogs, salami, green pepper, and fried onion, respectively. And Beauty’s hasn’t just caught (and kept) the attention and love of Montrealers. The restaurant is full of memorabilia from famous legends paying their tributes, from reviews by the New York Times, to a personal letter from the executive producer of the (at the time) Late Show with David Letterman writing, “you’re the only reason to come to Canada!”
Showing me the Beauty’s postcards they have, the pride Hymie has for what he and his wife have created is unmistakable. The first one is of him at 20 years old, where he laughs and says, “I’m an old man now!” even though he’s probably the sharpest 94-year-old you’ve ever met. The second one, of his wife, who passed away six years ago, he talks about with love, going back into stories of how they started their business. That his favourite part of Beauty’s is still all the people he gets to meet shows that the place is really something special.
Beauty’s is undoubtedly some of the best the city has to offer, and the feeling is mutual when Hymie says, about the creation of Beauty’s, that “since that time we’ve been flying high.”
P.S. Be prepared to be overwhelmed by choices! Here are my top picks: any of the soups (particularly the red lentil or the pea soup, make sure to get bagel croutons), the cookies and cream smoothie (trying to finish it is a heavenly challenge), the Superbeautys 2 (anything you could ever want for breakfast), the blintzes, and the BLT.