[URBAN NOTE] “Celine Dion is an unlikely savior of Montreal’s classic Jewish deli”
[H]ow did the French-Canadian pop diva become the custodian of Montreal’s premier Jewish culinary institution? That’s the question I’ve come to ask Frank Silva, Schwartz’s general manager, who was brought into the business by his father back in 1982.
Schwartz’s was founded in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish Romanian immigrant who started off as a delivery guy for other local delis. Silva says one day Schwartz realized “what he was delivering was inferior to what he knew from back home. So he figured he could do something better.”
Unfortunately, the Depression was just getting under way. Schwartz had to do whatever he could to stay in business, which meant making his Jewish deli a lot less Jewish.
“He started saying, forget about being kosher, we’ve got to start to make some money,” Silva says. He adds that they’re no longer certified kosher, but they keep it “kosher style.”
Schwartz was the first and last owner to work behind the counter at the deli. After his death, ownership passed to a partner, and then on to another one and another one, until four years ago when late restaurateur Paul Nakis heard Schwartz’s was for sale. That’s when Celine Dion came into the picture.