Over 80 years ago, Moishe Lighter went all-in on a legendary hand of poker that won him a restaurant. Now, in the face of a pandemic, his son is folding to save it. "The restaurant at the time was called Saffrin's and he worked for Mr. Saffrin," said Lenny Lighter, reccounting how his father Moishe Lighter aquired one of the world's best steakhouses in a game of cards. "My dad was a gambler and Saffrin was a gambler and they got into a card game one night and my dad won the restaurant."
Over the following decades, the Lighter family turned Moishes into one of the most iconic landmarks of boulevard St-Laurent. Now it has become the latest restaurant to fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the announcement that the beloved steakhouse is shuttering its doors, for now.
"Yes, we're closed. And yes, we'll be closed for an indeterminate period of time," said Lighter. "But at some point, and it really will depend on how things unfold with the pandemic, we'll make the decision to reopen somewhere else."
"Anybody who today makes a prediction, I think is speaking out of the side of their mouth because I don't think anybody really knows at this point," he continued.
Moishes was a place where families celebrated special occasions with filet mignon and Monte Carlo potatoes served by a waiter on a white-tablecloth.
Celebrities like Mordecai Richler (who liked rib steak and scotch) and Leonard Cohen (a fan of fine Bordeaux wines) would frequently stop by.
In 2018, the Sportscene Group, which also owns La Cage aux Sports, purchased the restaurant. Lighter stayed on as manager where he worked to find Moishes a new location away from St-Laurent.
"I've been trying to get off the Main for a number of years," said Lighter. "For better opportunity in terms of being able to do lunch, a cinq à sept, a full out sit-down bar."
He and Sportscene settled on a property in Victoria Square downtown due to its proximity to office buildings and hotels.
The restaurant's lease was set to expire in January, construction on the new restaurant was scheduled to begin in August, and they would have opened sometime in the fall but "all that got upended due to COVID," said Lighter.
"We were very gung-ho with the location we were going to because of the proximity to hotels," he said. "But the new normal is going to be different. How long will it take for people to travel again?"
"And will the office towers refill themselves? Or will the new normal be that a lot of people will be staying home and working, making the lunch business not viable."
"I feel it is an important Montreal institution and it's important for us to get back to being a Montreal institution but at the same time we're a business and it's not just about coming back, it's about coming back and making sure we can survive."