Some people celebrate milestone anniversaries knocking back costly bubbly. Not Steve Da Silva. The co-owner of La Vieille Europe, the exotica food emporium marking its 60th birthday on the Main this month, has opted for a cup of Kopi Luwak.For the uninitiated, this is coffee whose beans, after being partially digested, have been plucked from the feces of Indonesian civets.No s—?“None whatsoever,” Da Silva marvels. “So smooth, and smells great. Wanna a whiff?”Um … later.
La Vieille Europe, a food emporium, has somehow survived 60 years on the Main (St-Laurent Blvd.), when so many other shops in the neighbourhood have had to shut down. Goods that are not typically found in Canadian stores are the specialty at La Vieille Europe in Montreal on Wednesday April 24, 2019. Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette ORG XMIT: 62422
Dave Sidaway /
Oh yeah, Kopi Luwak java, also known for its lack of acidity, at $400 a kilo, costs more than the fanciest of champagnes.
La Vieille Europe co-owner Paulo Raimundo: “They call this a food oasis. It is for us, too.”
Dave Sidaway /
In fact, La Vieille Europe’s Kopi Luwak is something of a bargain. It can fetch up to $500 or even $600 a kilo.And yet, this is not the priciest product available here. That honour goes to a 100-year-old Italian balsamic vinegar: It will set you back $500 for a mere 68 grams.While pointing out that this vintage balsamic has a sweetness that marries well with, yes, ice cream, Da Silva isn’t cracking open any for this party.
Lots to chose from at the meat counter at La Vieille Europe.
Dave Sidaway /
It’s clearly not these two specialty items responsible for keeping La Vieille Europe surviving and thriving all these years. It offers more than 5,000 products from around the planet, with particular emphasis on its selection of cheeses, olive oils and charcuterie. It’s also a fair guess the place moves far more cooked Hungarian sausages — at $4.50 a serving, with sauerkraut and pickles — than the Kopi Luwak or balsamic.Apart from the Kopi Luwak, the shop is also known for its myriad international coffees. In fact, it was among the first in the city to roast its own beans on site — in its gi-normous roaster, almost the size of a train engine — in the early 1980s.And can’t forget the honey, culled from bee hives on its roof.
La Vieille Europe has been roasting its own coffee since the early 1980s.
Dave Sidaway /
Customers come from all over the city, and those who have left still return.“At the beginning, our base was customers in the Plateau area, and even after many of them moved far away, they still remain so loyal,” notes co-owner Paulo Raimundo. “They say they love walking in to get a worldly culinary experience like they don’t get at a big-box store or anywhere else in the city. They call this a food oasis. It is for us, too.”“Yeah, the hardest part of my job is trying to watch what I eat,” chimes in Da Silva.La Vieille Europe is a family affair. Its roots go back to 1959 when it was known as the Old Europe Meat Market and was owned by the Litvak family. It became La Vieille Europe in 1972, when it was taken over by former shop employee Jose Castanheira who transformed it into more of a deli. Then it was passed on to the fathers of Da Silva and current co-owner Nelson Santos, who, in turn, later passed it down to their sons. Raimundo, a long-time employee, was then to come aboard as a partner.The three owners, whose roots are Portuguese, are all from the ‘hood.
Pedestrians catch a rest on the red chairs set outside the Vieille Europe shop on St-Laurent Blvd. in 2017 when the shop was issued two tickets for having an illegal terrasse.
John Mahoney /
“We figured that we would have to expand the place and offer products from around the world, if we were going to make a go of it,” Da Silva says.“It’s the incredible variety of items here, particularly the cheeses and meats that have kept me coming back for the last 30 years,” enthuses lawyer Karin Wollank. “But it’s also the service. This place is like family to its regular customers.”So much so that when the owners received two $450 fines from the city a couple of years ago, simply for putting out a few red plastic chairs in front of the store, customers put up such a stink on social media that the city backed off.With the snow gone, the plastic chairs are back.“It was so ridiculous,” Da Silva recalls. “We really have to thank our customers for getting behind us. The chairs were for anyone, particularly seniors in the area, who wanted to sit for a spell. We weren’t serving any food outside, and the chairs weren’t for our customers. Sometimes, it was people eating smoked meat sandwiches from Schwartz’s up the street or from La Charcuterie Hongroise next door.”It’s no accident that La Vieille Europe, along with Schwartz’s in its 91st year and La Charcuterie Hongroise celebrating its 65th anniversary, are mainstays on the Main. While so many other businesses have come and gone on the street, they have retained their old-world ways, offering patrons familiarity in an age where too many impersonal franchises rule.“I fell in love with this place 40 years ago and am still in love with it,” says Plateau resident Selma Bryant Fournier. “So much in this area has disappeared over the years, so it’s reassuring there are still institutions like this, a reminder of what is so magical about Montreal.”firstname.lastname@example.org/billbrownsteinRelated