Legendary smoked-meat deli finds new owners

The standard-bearer for Montreal’s iconic smoked-meat sandwich is under new ownership.

Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, a mainstay on the city’s downtown Boulevard St-Laurent dating back to 1928, has been sold to Montreal’s Nakis and Angelil families for an undisclosed sum, the new owners confirmed Monday.

"I can speak on behalf of my partners, when I say that it’s very important for us to maintain the consistency and high standards of Schwartz’s reputation," Rene Angelil, better known as the husband of pop singer Celine Dion, said in a release.

The delicatessen has become a world-renowned city landmark — in part for the smoked beef brisket, prepared daily without preservatives and usually served sliced on rye bread with mustard, but also for a careworn lunch-counter ambience that’s remained unchanged for decades.

Various processors follow similar cooking and curing processes to make what’s considered Montreal smoked meat or, in other parts of Canada, "Montreal-style" smoked meat. Schwartz’s, while far from the first to use the process, is arguably the brand most often linked to the product.

The deli was founded in 1928 by restaurateur and Romanian immigrant Reuben Schwartz and passed through several owners before winding up with businessman Hy Diamond in 1999. Diamond reportedly cited health reasons when he recently announced his intent to sell the deli.

Diamond "has poured his heart and soul into building this business, and not only do we want to thank him for his dedication, but we want him to be proud of our efforts to continue along the same path," Angelil said.

Many reports on the restaurant allege the deli’s previous owners and hardcore patrons have resisted any expansion or franchising for Schwartz’s, implying the current deli’s ambience, if not its product, could never be replicated elsewhere.

"Of course, we’ll make a few improvements as necessary, but we’re not interested in diluting the brand by franchising, or making the deli something that it isn’t," Angelil said. "It’s truly one-of-a-kind, and we intend to keep it this way."

"For a restaurant to continue as long as Schwartz’s has is a true testament to the quality of its product, the loyalty of its customers, and the word-of-mouth that has opened the doors to constant growth," said Anastasia Nakis, granddaughter of Montreal restaurateur Paul Nakis.

Angelil’s nephews Martin and Eric Sara are also part of the new management group. Dion, a known patron of the deli, was not mentioned as an active participant in the deal, other than in the release’s initial mention of the "Angelil-Dion family."

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