Lester's Deli to change hands; new owner plans to expand business
Montreal's famed Lester's Deli has been sold, but it's not going anywhere.
The Outremont restaurant will continue to serve smoked meat sandwiches, just many more of them – the iconic neighbourhood eatery is about to go worldwide.
Billy Berenholc, who owns the Bernard Ave. restaurant until it changes hands on Aug. 1, has been working at the deli for 50 years, getting his start at age 18.
"I didn't know -- when I started with my dad, I must've done something wrong -- I got a life sentence with no parole," he joked. "But it's been an amazing ride."
People come from all over for the food, and Berenholc said that's been his favourite part of the job.
"I'm going to miss the social aspect, the people I talk to every day, people who have coffee with me every morning, sitting outside on the terrace," he said.
Berenholc said he has had a few offers over the years and finally decided to sell to Montreal chef and restaurateur Kevin Fung, who has ambitious expansion plans.
"He's got a lot of restaurant experience," said Berenholc of Fung. "A lot of growth experience, a lot of management experience, but he's not a neurotic micro-manager like I am -- which is why he'll have a chance to grow."
Fung is ambitious and ready for the challenge.
"I love smoked meat, and I'd like to honour Billy's legacy and try and do what I can with it. I know there's a huge potential and can promote a little bit of Montreal's history and culture – bring a little Montreal to the world," he said.
Lester's Deli is the latest on the list of Montreal family institutions like The Main that did not get passed down to the next generation.
"All three of my kids are involved in beautiful worlds of their own," said Berenholc. "They're happy. They are flourishing. It's a happy ending for them."
It's not an ending for Berenholc, either – he's not retiring. Instead, he'll stay on during the transition to kibbitz and consult.