Family-run Montreal restaurant on the brink because of roadwork outside, owner says

·4 min read
The refrigerators at Darbar restaurant sit uncharacteristically empty after owner Simar Anand says construction outside his restaurant forced him to temporarily shut down nearly three weeks ago.  (Rowan Kennedy/CBC News - image credit)
The refrigerators at Darbar restaurant sit uncharacteristically empty after owner Simar Anand says construction outside his restaurant forced him to temporarily shut down nearly three weeks ago. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC News - image credit)

Darbar, a popular Indian restaurant nestled on Montreal's St-Laurent Boulevard, is home to Simar Anand. Literally.

He was born and raised on the second floor of the restaurant, which used to be his parents' apartment.

"The dining room upstairs is actually the original living room," the owner of Darbar said. "And where we have the bathrooms upstairs for our guests is actually our original kitchen."

"So the upstairs has a lot of value to me because that's where I grew up," he said.

That's why when Anand's father died of COVID-19 in 2020, closing down the restaurant his dad had run for 26 years didn't even cross his mind.

"This restaurant is my connection to my dad, and so I've been trying my very best for the last two years, even through the pandemic, to keep this going for as long as I can," Anand said.

Rowan Kennedy/CBC News
Rowan Kennedy/CBC News

But that's become even harder to do due to construction work on St-Laurent Boulevard right outside his restaurant's doors. Anand says it is killing business and has forced him to temporarily shut down.

"We went through an entire global pandemic which wasn't able to shut us down and at this point, the work that the city's been doing on the street is on the verge of putting us into insolvency," he said.

'Complete chaos' 

Anand says he made the difficult decision to close his restaurant indefinitely almost three weeks ago after he says customers began cancelling their reservations left and right following the start of construction on July 11.

"People cancel because they don't want to deal with this. They don't want to jump over barriers or barricades or platforms with massive ditches in the ground," Anand said.

Rowan Kennedy/CBC News
Rowan Kennedy/CBC News

He says construction wasn't a barrier to just customers — staff too had a difficult time. On Jly 23, Anand said, the entrance to his restaurant was barricaded by yellow tape, preventing staff from entering the establishment.

"It's complete chaos on the street right now," Anand said.  "At this point, it doesn't even make sense for me to open."

The closure has left close to a dozen of his workers — many of whom had worked for his father for years — off the job, including part-time dishwasher Belgin Oduyakmaz.

"I'm a single mother, so I lost two weeks of income. Clearly it affects me and my children," she lamented.

Ineligible for relief program

Anand says two weeks before construction began, the city of Montreal contacted him to let him know of the plans and also to demand that he take down his patio — something he refused to do during the busiest time of year for his restaurant.

Since then, Anand says it's been radio silence from the city as he's scrambled to get financial assistance for his losses.

CBC News
CBC News

He says his claim for the city's relief program to help businesses affected by construction zones was rejected as he was told he closed too soon to be eligible. He said he was also told the project, slated to last 10 weeks, was too short-term to qualify for financial aid.

"I can tell you the loss that I'm going to suffer during these 10 weeks in the middle of the summer far exceeds the loss I would have suffered if you had done this project for six months during any other time of the year," Anand said.

In a statement, city hall opposition Ensemble Montréal called the relief program dysfunctional, saying some $20 million is sitting in the fund.

Meanwhile, Anand says he has to pay bills amounting to almost $30,000 by next week — an amount he says he doesn't have. He's now looking to his insurance company to see if he can recoup any money lost.

"At this point, I'm trying to grab onto anything I can to get me through."

City says it's working to support owner

In a statement to CBC News, the mayor's office said the city is working with Anand to find different ways to support him during the road work. Construction, which involves replacing a leaded water inlet, is expected to last until September

"We are aware that the construction work can cause inconvenience[s] and we strive to limit them as much as possible," the statement reads.

The city says it has put Anand in contact with a liaison officer who is available to resolve "any problems that may arise in connection with the work." It also says a city official visits the site three times a week to ensure that access to the business is maintained.

Rowan Kennedy/CBC News
Rowan Kennedy/CBC News

Anand is now calling for reform to the city's relief program. But for his family's business, recouping the monetary loss is only part of the uphill battle he's facing.

"What doesn't get factored into that is the loss of goodwill, the loss of employees, the loss of inventory," he said.

He says he will have to work hard to rebuild his clientele in hopes of keeping his father's legacy alive.