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What the closing of Eater Montreal means for the city's food and drink scene

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Eater Montreal is shutting down its online publication that for years has been a go-to source for the happenings in the city's distinguished food and dining scene.

The digital Eater brand operates in several cities across North America and was taken over by Vox Media in 2013. Eater Montreal offers critiques of where to find the best restaurants but also told long-form stories of the trends and the people who make the Montreal restaurant scene world-class.

Vox Media confirmed in a statement to CTV News that it will focus its efforts on its U.S. markets going forward.

"As a result of the challenging economic environment, we have made the difficult decision to no longer update Eater’s Montreal site on a regular basis," said Lauren Starke, the company's senior vice-president of communications.

"We’re proud of the work we did at Eater Montreal, which has served as a source for Montreal restaurant news and offered service coverage to its readers for many years; we may still cover Montreal occasionally through Eater’s travel section in the future."

For JP Karwacki, it was an announcement he had expected might be coming but was nonetheless still "disappointing."

JP Karwacki, who started writing for Eater Montreal in 2016, said he worries about the impact the publication will have on the city's food and drink scene by no longer covering the local businesses that relied on it. (Submitted photo)

The longtime Montreal-based food writer worked for Eater for about seven years and fears what the loss will mean for the anglophone media landscape already hit by more cuts at the Postmedia-owned Montreal Gazette newspaper.

The food and drink industry doesn't get covered in the same way that Eater Montreal does it, he said.

"Sometimes an opening night at a restaurant or a bar could be jam-packed with people because the news went out through Eater and would otherwise not get covered anywhere else," said Karwacki.

"Their ability to be able to talk about businesses both big and small to say when they're opening, when they're closing, what's happening with them, whether or not they're releasing a new menu item that would have been worth your time — that has a huge impact because it affects their bottom line."

The lack of adequate English-language coverage of the restaurant scene in Montreal from critics at Eater and the Gazette creates a void, leaving starving readers turning to places like their Instagram feeds for where to find the best grub.

"The new review is a five-page Instagram story, you know, so I just think you kind of do have to follow people you trust. And I think we're going to get to the point where it's more word-of-mouth from friends if you trust your friends," said Lesley Chesterman, former longtime Montreal Gazette food critic, in an interview with CJAD 800.

That also means, however, that eating out now is more of a gamble, she added, since the in-depth review isn't there anymore as it used to be.

"A restaurant review wasn't just thumbs up or thumbs down," she said.

"You talk about a little of the history of the restaurant. I always thought they were more about the city themselves, a story about a restaurant, it's about the whole culture of eating out. And it's a shame because this is a great part of living in Montreal. And if we're not going to talk about what's going on in our food scene — or if all the news that we get comes out of a central desk in Brampton, Ontario, we're not eating the same way in Saskatoon as we are eating in Montreal, right? So there are a lot of problems now with this whole scene."

There are publications trying to keep the coverage going. Chesterman pointed to Cult Montreal as one source covering the food and drink scene.

Karwacki also said he's behind the effort to revive the online outlet The Main, which bills itself as Montreal's "cultural directory" that he said will aim to publish short- and long-term content not exclusive to the restaurant scene.

He said it remains to be seen whether anglophone media will rebound from recent cuts, though he is certain there's an appetite for it.

"I think people actually do actively care about these things, and it's not meant to be understated," Karwacki said.

"When it's written well and with intention … sometimes the media can create landmarks out of places that otherwise might go completely under the radar. And that's one of the reasons why this is really important."  

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