My lengthy explorations of the Olympic Stadium, the Botanical Gardens and the Insectarium, and my visit to the Jean Talon Market in Montreal’s Little Italy had definitely stimulated my appetite for a good meal. By this time it was mid-afternoon and I had taken the subway back to the Latin Quarter in the St-Denis area, one of Montreal’s major entertainment districts. The streets are packed with restaurants, bistros, cafés, hip boutiques and galleries and the Quartier Latin is definitely one of the places to be in Montreal.
I exited the subway at Sherbrooke and headed one street west and I ended up coming out right across from the Square St. Louis which is a beautiful neighbourhood park with benches and a fountain in the centre. On the east side of the street was a restaurant that caught my attention with its colourful outdoor tables and chairs. I checked it out and saw that it was a casual Mexican restaurant called Mañana. It looked like a great place to grab a late lunch and was in the perfect location since I was planning to relax a little in the park after the meal.
A colourful little spot: Mañana, on rue St-Denis
I sat down and stretched my legs and a young server came to serve me quickly. I glanced at the menu and figured I couldn’t go wrong with the “Table d’hôte (the menu of the day): I ordered a reasonably priced combination of cactus gratinado (gratinated cactus hearts, sautéed in garlic butter, served on a tortilla) as an appetizer, a very tasty burrito vegetariano (flour tortillas filled with veggies, accompanied by salsa, black beans and Mexican rice) and for dessert a passionfruit mousse.
Angel Broncales, in front of several pictures of Frida Kahlo
Ever the curious travel writer, I asked the waitress to connect me with the owner or manager, so a few minutes later I had a chance to meet the person behind Mañana: Angel Broncales, originally from Trujillo in the north of Peru, came to Montreal 23 years ago. Angel and I conversed the entire time in Spanish since his English is extremely limited. He explained that the Trujillo region is a beautiful area with gorgeous beaches and it is very inexpensive, but not very well known.
My appetizer: gratinated cactus
When Angel first came to Montreal, he worked in different factories and later moved into the restaurant business as a dishwasher and also learned how to cook. Throughout his time in a variety of different restaurants, he has become an expert in French, Brazilian, Italian and Mexican cuisine.
My main dish: a delicous veggie burrito with rice and black beans
Mañana has been in existence for about 15 years now and Angel purchased it recently from the former owner about 6 months ago. He had already been the chef at the restaurant, so he was thoroughly familiar with the menu. But he added that now he has to think a lot more with his head and he has the responsibility for his entire business on his shoulder. Those are the biggest changes that he has experienced since becoming a restaurant entrepreneur.
And a wonderful passionfruit mousse for dessert
I was fascinated by Angel’s story who has worked himself up from very modest beginnings as an immigrant with no English and initially little French, to becoming a successful restaurant owner in one of Montreal’s hottest entertainment areas. I really enjoyed talking to this quiet, shy and humble man who wasn’t much into self-promotion. His work ethic and determination were clearly his success factors and Angel added that he loves Canada; he said the security and safety of this country simply doesn’t have a price.
As a restaurateur, Angel works long hours, usually until 2 or 3 am in the morning, seven days a week. He has a Mexican chef that helps him and added that there are many Mexican immigrants in Montreal. Unfortunately many of them don’t have official papers and some simply have too much trouble adjusting to the cold climate, so many of them leave and return to their home country.
Angel with his tri-lingual team mates
Fortunately for Angel he has great staff members whom he trusts. His serving staff at Restaurant Mañana are trilingual, they speak excellent English, Spanish and of course French. His wife is also from Peru and assists him with the bookkeeping for his business and his 17-year old son, a “real Quebecker” in Angel’s words, helps him during school vacations. During weekends Angel has a local guitarist who, in the Mexican tradition, goes from table to table and serenades the guests in exchange for a gracious tip. His guests come from all over the world, and many of them are travelers from Toronto. Some of them love to come for Valentine’s Day, the “Dia de los Enamorados”.
It was heartwarming hearing about Angel’s story, how a simple man from Peru with limited language skills could become a successful restaurant owner in one of Montreal’s most popular entertainment districts. I couldn’t help but feel that there is a place here for everybody, and you can make it here if you are determined and willing to work hard enough.
Angel’s comments were still resonating in my head when I strolled out the door to enjoy a little break in the park area of Square St. Louis. There is something beautiful about being an immigrant country…..