A fabled destination for Montreal smoked-meat sandwiches is in a pickle with some of its loyal patrons.
Schwartz's, the landmark delicatessen that has been serving up sandwiches to gratified customers for more than 80 years, is making a supermarket version of its iconic product – a move purists are decrying.
The restaurant on St. Laurent Boulevard is teaming up with Sobeys Inc. to market its renowned artery-choking brisket in vacuum-sealed 125-gram bags. Schwartz's new owners say the product has the same unique taste and texture as the one fans queue up for outside the deli every day.
But for some, the very notion of straying from the ori ginal mission and mystique of making the best smoked meat in the world on site is sacrilege.
"I'm against it. It's becoming commercial," Langevin Dupuis said just after buying a slab of the hallowed victual for his 86-year-old father, who was back from a three-week vacation in Florida and badly in need of his Schwartz-meat fix. "If people want to eat Schwartz's smoked meat, then let them come here," Mr. Dupuis said during a Thursday morning visit to the nondescript restaurant.
Behind the counter, assistant manager Joao Goncalves said he'd tasted the supermarket version and liked it.
"It's for people who can't come to the restaurant," he said as his team made preparations in the cramped quarters for the usual lunchtime onslaught of customers.
"I don't think it will hurt the brand. It will be positive," he added.
Eric and Martin Sara, two of the partners in the group of investors who bought Schwartz's for a reported $10-million last year, said they were confident the grocery version will be a hit because of its high-quality production standards at a factory north of Montreal.
The smoked meat went on sale Thursday in Sobeys' IGA stores and other banners in Quebec, retailing for $10.99 for four 125-gram bags.
"One of the questions that often popped up [after the acquisition] was whether we intended to franchise the concept," said Eric Sara, Schwartz's vice-president of finance.
The risk is losing control over the quality of the product, he said. Opting for supermarket distribution allows the company to maintain strict standards for quality, texture and uniformity.
Yvan Ouellet, Sobeys Quebec vice-president of procurement and merchandising – perishables, said the company is studying the idea of extending distribution beyond Quebec.
As to whether the smoked meat will seduce purists' demanding palates, he said: "They'll find what they're looking for."
The Saras are partners with René Angélil, husband and manager of pop diva Celine Dion, in a 50-per-cent ownership of Schwartz's. Montreal entrepreneur and restaurateur Paul Nakis and family members own the other half. Mr. Angélil and Mr. Nakis were involved in the Nickels chain of restaurants in the 1990s.
Schwartz's previous owner, Sy Diamond, resisted updating the faded decor at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, leaving it in its familiar form, the way customers prefer it.
His one nod to the new was opening a takeout shop next door a few years ago.
Editor's note: The description of the packaging for Schwartz's smoked meat that went on sale Thursday in some retail outlets has been clarified in this version of the online story.