Hamburgers are the type of dish that no one dares to mess with too much. Yes, insane toppings and squid-ink buns have become vogue in recent years, but generally, the burger-format remains the same, no matter what restaurant you're eating at.
A fluffy bun, a thick and meaty patty, several classic condiments (like ketchup and mustard), each are staples of burger; what some deem truly necessary for a hamburger quality. And truly, why mess with what works?
That, perhaps, is what makes Montreal's homegrown burger chain Dic Ann's so special, because this iconic restaurant has taken the classic hamburger recipe-format and completely turned it on its head.
Offering burgers truly unique to the brand, Dic Ann's has made an entire city fall in love with their take on the hamburger for the last 60 years, with no sign of slowing down.
From incredibly humble beginnings, Dic Ann's took what the uninitiated may deem as a hamburger flattened by a steam roller into a Montreal food staple, one you can't get anywhere else. But what inspired the creation of such a strange burger? Who would take such a risk in a city that prides itself on quality food of every sort?
A Montreal story like no other, you'll find all the answers below, in our feature on the real story behind Dic Ann's.
The Love Story That Is Dic Ann's
Born in West Virginia in 1919, Dominic Potenza would grow up in Utica, only to become entrenched in the food service industry by his early twenties. Working as the head-waiter in several supper-club style restaurants around the Rochester-Buffalo area in the 40s, Dominic (otherwise known as "Dick") grew somewhat famous among restauranteurs, no doubt for his attention to detail and quality service.
Serving patrons as they listened to live music, Dick had no idea that during one of his shifts, his life would change forever.
Ann Collecchia, born and raised in Montreal, was a jazz accordionist in the 1940s who performed under the name of Ann Russell. One night, Ann happened to be playing at Dick's restaurant, and the sparks of love (that would later help shape Dic Ann's) were first formed.
Another account of Dick and Ann's first meeting offers another layer to the tale. As told by the couple's future grandchildren, Ann was performing on a navy ship where Dick was working as a mechanic. When the lightbulb in Ann's room went out, she called for some mechanical assistance, with Dick coming to her aid.
But whether Dick and Ann first met on a boat or in a supper-club, the end result remains the same: the two fell in love, completely and unequivocally.
Shortly after, Dick shared with Ann his dream of opening his very own restaurant, a burger shack that would do things differently than any other. Fueled by love and ambition, Ann took up Dick's dream and the two moved to Montreal, opening up their humble shop on the corner of Cremazie and Papineau in 1954.
Dic Ann's was born.
Doing Things Differently: How The Dic Ann's Burger Came To Be
Delicious while being a bit different, the Dic Ann's burger is no-doubt intrinsic to the restaurant's success from its earliest days in the 50s to the present. While three burger items are mainstays of the restaurant (hamburger, Hambourghini, and Hi Boy), each are made unique for Dic Ann's original take on the hamburger bun, patty, and toppings.
But the three aspects weren't all born at the same time. At the root of the Dic Ann's burger is the patty itself, something Dick had thought up before the first restaurant opened its doors.
Function is at the root of the thin, nearly two ounce Dic Ann's patty. Pressed quite flat, Dick knew the lean patty would cook quite quickly, thus making it perfectly suited for the fast-food style restaurant he envisioned.
Of course, having a thin patty with a standard fluffy burger bun would look weird, so Dick had a sensible solution: flatten the bun, too. Not stopping there, and planning to incorporate a signature sauce to his burgers, Dic proposed toasting the thin buns, ensuring it wouldn't fall apart or get too soggy from the sauce.
The tomato-based-and-slightly-spicy Dic Ann's burger sauce is completely enshrouded in mystery, with Dick, Ann, and their descendants closely guarding the ingredients to the recipe. But while not much is known about what goes into the secret sauce, we do know that Dick and Ann polled their Montreal friends while they were choosing a single recipe.
Four recipes were tried out (with some Dick brought from Rochester), and in the end, only the one seen in Dic Ann's restaurants today was chosen. Nowadays, only three Potenza family members even know the recipes, with gigantic 55 gallon batches made every week and taken to every Dic Ann's restaurant in Montreal.
One unique feature no one seems to understand about how the Dic Ann's burger is served is the tongue depressor, or souleveur du hamburger served with burger. Most patrons use the stick to prop up the burger and grab it (so as not to get your hands messy), while others stick it right into the centre of the burger to hold it together. Even Dick and Ann's grandchildren don't really know where the tongue stopper comes from, but it's a part of the experience nonetheless.
Dic Ann's Becomes A Montreal Institution
With their original recipe, it didn't take long for Dick and Ann's burgers to become a hit in Montreal. Even though the first Dic Ann's location was quite small and quaint, Montrealers lined up for a burger, and in just two years the dynamic burger-duo decided to expand.
Opening up their second location Montreal North, otherwise known as Dic Ann's Pie-IX, the new venue was originally just a drive-in and only open during the summer. To meet demands, however, the restaurant was upgraded to accommodate year-round service, as locals and celebrities (like Celine Dion!) clamoured for a Dic Ann's burger.
For years, the Pie-IX location was the only place to get a burger made by Dick and Ann, who worked together each and every day, serving close to 400 dozen burgers in a single day. But Dick had large aspirations, hoping to open up a Dic Ann's across Montreal.
But that dream would take time. In 1981, a Dic Ann's, was opened in Chomedey, Laval, larger than any in times past. Years would pass before Dic Ann's expanded further (no doubt due to Dick and Ann's attention to quality), with the 90s being a period of immense growth for the brand, with three restaurants opening from 1994-96.
Tragedy would strike before, however, with Ann passing away in 1988. Losing Ann, and one half of the founding Dic Ann's team, was surely an immense blow to the Potenza family and Dick himself, but they would continue to fulfill their dream. And even though Dick would no longer be working alongside Ann, he would see her every day, visiting Ann's grave every morning for close to twenty years before his own passing in 2009.
Long before his death, Dick became less involved with the daily operations of the Dic Ann's franchise, passing leadership down to his children, who then did the same with their kids. Now, with ten locations and a food truck in Montreal, Dic Ann's is still operated by the Potenza family, who retain the quality and warmth in service first achieved by Dick and Ann sixty years ago.
And that's what Dic Ann's is all about, quality burgers served by passionate people. That's how Dick and Ann founded the burger chain and grew it up from nothing, so it's good to know their memory lives on today. Dic Ann's truly is an iconic Montreal staple that is synonymous with happiness and family, as you no doubt fondly remember the first time your parents treated you to a classic Dic Ann's burger.