Opened in 1991, the Bistro On The Avenue has become a favorite of "des bons vivants" from near and far. Charged with the energy of a New York eatery, it serves up the charm of a Paris Bistro spiced up with a zest for life. A rarity in Westmount, the Bistro is open daily for both lunch and dinner.
Gopen Dev began as a busboy 13 years ago at the Bistro on the Avenue. And he is still clearing off tables -littered with napkins, bread crumbs, remnants of meals on plates and wine in glasses and other stuff you probably don't want to know about - before setting up tables on which new customers can make their messes.
Only difference between then and now is that Dev is his own boss.
In one of the great Cinderella stories -resto division - Dev, 43, is now co-owner of a bistro on one of the most posh streets on the island, Greene Ave. in Westmount.
Also a co-owner is Kripesh Paul, 42, who started out as a busboy at the Bistro on the Avenue 16 years ago and became a waiter a few years back. Paul -who, like Dev, hails from Bangladesh -will continue to serve tables at the restaurant.
In another interesting twist of fate, Dev and Paul hired the manager, Gordana Govic, who first hired them as busboys to once again run the Bistro on the Avenue. Govic left the place a decade back to start her own bistro on St. Denis, which since closed. She has total confidence in her new bosses.
"Honestly, who knows the restaurant business better than people who started at the bottom and have seen everything, inside and out?" Govic asks. "But this is not just a heartwarming story. These guys saved the place."
The Bistro on the Avenue closed its doors Oct. 23. It was supposed to have been sold by then-owners Jim Ross and Bruce Everest to another restaurateur two days later, but the deal fell through. For a spell, it looked like it was curtains for the restaurant and its 30 employees, some of whom had been there since the beginning 20 years ago.
"I came in a few days after the restaurant first closed to help Jim (Ross) move some of his things out and to meet the new owner," Paul recalls.
"Then Jim told me something had come up and the sale was off. He was devastated. I asked him if he would consider reopening himself, but he wasn't interested. Then he asked me if I would be interested."
Paul hadn't contemplated being a restaurateur at that point. But he checked with his buddy Dev. They, in turn, scraped together some financing, and made Ross an offer.
"He gave us a really good deal," Paul says. "I think he did this because he knew our hearts were in it and that we would get most of the employees to come back and keep the tradition of the place he had built."
It's not surprising Ross wanted out after 20 years. In the last two years, he had to weather the global recession. Not to mention a Greene Ave.-induced recession, which began over the summer. Construction on the street made the Bistro almost inaccessible by car, sometimes even by foot. Road construction also resulted in Ross losing use of the outdoor terrasse, a huge source of summer revenue.
"But if anyone can bring this place back to its former lustre, it's these guys," Govic says. "They are so dedicated and hard-working. And smart and honest. They're like sponges. They soak up everything. And they genuinely care about the customers and staff. They really deserve the opportunity."
At the May 19 WHA lecture, Paul recalled how the previous owners had closed the business and were going to give everything away. One of them asked if he knew someone who wanted to buy a restaurant. That was the beginning of the continuation of the Bistro: Employees Paul, Gopen Dev, Tapan Modak, and Manil Ullan are now owners, with most of the old staff still there.
Asked if they would change anything, Paul replied that they respect their cliental so will continue to provide favorite quality meals and are committed to personalized service. They are, however, trying to decrease the noise level, as it is irritating for many. The Bistro is a friendly restaurant where many Westmounters have their favorite tables. Well-known local artist Eva Prager always ordered onion soup and dined at table #30 during the last years of her life. The family will install a plaque in her memory.
Paul also talked about ordering food and deciding on menus. He has ongoing talks with the City about the current problems of composting and garbage pick-up.
Always interested in what went before, the audience of Historical Association members learned that the Bistro had opened in 1991 just six months after the Greek restaurant Maison Le Dauphin closed in the same space. Other 20-year restaurants on Greene Avenue are VAGO Cucina Italiana and Kashima Cuisine Japonaise.
A long history on the street
In 1894, Dent Harrison, baker and confectioner, opened his business at 1 Dunlop Place, a small street between Greene and Wood where the entrance to Westmount Square is today.
In 1912, a Mrs. Savage had a restaurant around the corner at 4204 Ste. Catherine St.
1n 1920 Nick Alevisatos bought Merryland Sweets Ice Cream Parlor and Confectionery at 1377 Greene from his cousin and renamed it Nick’s Restaurant. One of his sons, Tom, managed the restaurant until 1998, when he sold it to his friend Robert Collard. In 1970, his other son George opened By George! at 1343 Greene , called Catering by George today. George and Tom owned Togos, managed by their sister, Maria, at 1359 Greene for 11 years until a fire destroyed the building on her birthday. Her husband, Michael Dissos, opened Michael D in the old Post Office, then Maison du Dauphin at 1362 until 1990. Bistro on the Avenue opened in 1991 in the same space.
Doreen Lindsay is president of the Westmount Historical Association.