MONTREAL -- Ask Billy Berenholc if he ever thought the little deli he’s been working at for almost all his life would be around for 70 years.

“I never knew it was life sentence with no parole when I started here with my dad,” he’ll tell you.

His dad, Eddy, started working at the Bernard Ave. shop in 1951. Five years later, he bought the place.

Berenholc has been coming in since he was about 5-years-old and has been running Lester’s since the 80s.

He says there are lots of reasons behind Lester’s Deli’s success: starting, of course, with the smoked meat sandwich.

Briskets are cured for at least five days, cut to perfection, and served on bread that’s made fresh daily, in a deli that’s hardly changed since the 50’s.

“The comfort of eating the sandwich, the simplicity of walking into a deli and sitting down and eating your French fries with your fingers in your suit, your tie, with three or four businesspeople -- It’s comfortable,” he said.

Berenholc says that, even during the pandemic, while things weren't so comfortable for most restaurant owners, Lester’s Deli was still thriving.

Loyal customers, seeking their regular fix, were ordering takeout, and Berenholc’s daughter, Candice, found a new market by coordinating delivery orders to cottage country.

Berenholc says he made sure workers were paid well and treated with respect when the pandemic made business more unpredictable. He says staff worked overtime to keep the ship moving.

“You can’t expect people to come to work for you and give it everything they got if they have to go home and worry about paying their bills, what kind of car they’re driving, how their kids are eating,” he said.

Nick Charos, Lester’s manager, says he doubts he could have found a better boss, or a better place to work, in uncertain times.

“No matter what’s going on in my life, when I walk through that door and I see everyone enjoying their food, the smiles, the ambient noise, it makes me forget everything else,” said Charos.

“It reminds me: this is what I love.”