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Eat & Drink

Why can't Montreal brands find success in Toronto?

Posted by Robyn Urback / May 31, 2011

MBRGRWith M:brgr on King West shutting its doors last week, Toronto not only lost its sole purveyor (as far as I know) of the $100 hamburger, but it also lost yet another Montreal business that couldn't seem to get its grip on the Toronto market. Owner Jeff Ditcher didn't respond immediately to requests for comment, but M:brgr's Twitter feed confirmed that the burger joint is gone for good, though its original Montreal location will remain open.

The news doesn't exactly come as a surprise, considering M:brgr Toronto opened up amid some tough competition. There's Big Smoke Burger at King and Portland, BQM Diner at Queen and Peter and Grindhouse at King and Peter--and that's just burger bars--so the skeptical observer would note that the odds weren't exactly in M:brgr's favour.

But it seems this sort of fleeting, failed attempt to establish a Toronto brand based on Montreal success isn't exactly unusual. Take the case of Spice Safar, also on King West, which was opened by founder Wilhelm Liebenberg after Spice Safar Montreal took off. The mistake here, however, may have been opening two Toronto locations within such a close proximity. Then there was Liquid Nutrition on Queen Street, which currently boasts seven locations in Montreal, but experienced just a brief life when it opened a couple years back on Queen by Spadina. Perhaps it was the Fresh just around the corner, or Sadie's down the block.

Other Montreal businesses that took a stab at Toronto are Space FB, which enjoyed a brief stint as the casual wear du-jour as far as I can recall, but eventually closed both its Queen Street and Eglinton East locations. There was MBCo, a Montreal bakery that is still alive in Yorkville but shuttered its Rosedale outpost. Plus Moishes if you want to go a decade or so back, which brought its delicious pickles (and steak) to The Financial District, but was perhaps was one too many steakhouses for the area, and closed after just a couple of years on the scene.

It seems to me these examples shared a common and fatal barrier to success--wrong location. Either they landed in the wrong spot, or plopped themselves down in an area already saturated with what they were selling. Is that what ails these Montreal imports? Do Montreal business owners need to get a better drift of what works where in Toronto? Or is something else causing all of these Montreal businesses to go belly up?

Discussion

64 Comments

michael S / May 31, 2011 at 10:52 am
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"$100 hamburger!"

You answered your initial question.
Jason / May 31, 2011 at 11:08 am
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I think David's Tea is from Montreal
(not 100% sure), and they seem to be doing O.K.
Natalie / May 31, 2011 at 11:11 am
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I would kill for a Mackage store here. Their leather wear is top notch! Soia and Kyo (their more affordable line) would do well here too.
Brandon / May 31, 2011 at 11:12 am
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Not too surprised. Their burgers were pretty good (though pretty expensive even for the non-$100 ones), but the place was huge and pretty empty when I was there on St Patrick's day. Rent must be brutal in that area. It almost had more of a club vibe, compared to the gourmet burger joint vibe like Craft Burger and Grindhouse have.
mike / May 31, 2011 at 11:25 am
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I think it has something to do with Toronto needing less burger joints that make an uninspired, tasteless cookie cutter burger, and more Schwartz's. Bring a Schwartz's to Toronto!
bazluhr / May 31, 2011 at 11:26 am
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La Senza is a Montreal business, so is le chateau, so is david's tea, so is rudsak....let's not only focus on the ones that didn't make it. many businesses close....even toronto-based ones.
Ingrid replying to a comment from Natalie / May 31, 2011 at 11:43 am
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You can get Sola and Kyo coats at Girl Friday.
patricia trepanier / May 31, 2011 at 11:43 am
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That is too bad ! Stacy Zang a Montreal designer recently opened a store in on Queen West. And Les Effrontés fashion stylist agency too
Sandman / May 31, 2011 at 11:49 am
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Maybe, BECAUSE they are from 'Montreal' and Torontonians prefer to support local.
(Le Chateau & ilk are chains that appeal to the 'burbs I suppose)

**Please note, I was born in Montreal.
GreenBees replying to a comment from bazluhr / May 31, 2011 at 11:57 am
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I don't know how proud Montreal is of Le Chateau anymore. lol. And La Senza was bought out by Limited Brands (aka. Victoria Secret & co), but I see what you're saying.

I think the problem with non-apparel Montreal brands is that they try to be TOO Montreal. Montreal's Euro-Canadian culture doesn't necessarily translate to the omniscient culture of Toronto. Especially not at the overpriced tune of $100 burgers. :/
visualhornet / May 31, 2011 at 11:58 am
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Ummm rent at $24,000 a month. Lets open up a burger joint. One word RETARDS
Daughter of Darkness / May 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm
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It might have something to do with the astronomical rent prices in Toronto as compared to Montreal....just sayin'
curds / May 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm
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Poutine seems to have thrived well in the Toronto market.

Todd / May 31, 2011 at 12:11 pm
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Let's not forget St. Hubert is also no longer in the GTA.
Andrew / May 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm
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Does The Three Brewers / Les 3 Brasseurs on Yonge count, or is better described as a French pub chain? While I reserve commenting on the quality of its food, it seems to have found a niche for itself in the Yonge & Dundas area.
mais oui / May 31, 2011 at 12:17 pm
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Les 3 Brasseurs dumbasses opened their place at Yonge and Dundas.
It deserves to fail.
If they had opened it in Liberty Village or the Annex it would be going gangbusters.

But as far as M Burgers goes, this comment sums it up perfectly:
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visualhornet / MAY 31, 2011 AT 11:58 AM
Ummm rent at $24,000 a month. Lets open up a burger joint. One word RETARDS
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I ate at M once. It was mediocre at best. Nobody has ever come close to Craft Burger(now Big Smoke).
Maria / May 31, 2011 at 12:40 pm
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They just opened a Montreal chain in the HBC Center food court (Bloor and Park), it's called La Prep.

Also, it seems as the building where M:Brgr was will be turned into a condo, I saw the notices on the front.
fuq tha habs / May 31, 2011 at 12:44 pm
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Scores also deadpooled recently, but teir expansion was just a trial.

The MTY Group is seeing great success here. They're taking over food courts everywhere.
Molly / May 31, 2011 at 12:52 pm
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Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival tried a Toronto version and failed too. They cancelled this year...
JFLSA replying to a comment from Molly / May 31, 2011 at 12:56 pm
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To add to that...Just For Laughs Gags is a very misleading title.

Are the French really that stupid?
Jey (FJBlogs) / May 31, 2011 at 01:01 pm
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It's sad to hear that, but you're right. Location is key. I'm from Montreal and have lived in Toronto since last year in May and have seen the differences in dining. Any day of the week you go out to eat in Montreal, the restaurants are busy... on St-Denis expecially and the Old Port, where the best independent restaurants and bistros are, where people don't mind to pay a lot of money for amazing food. In Montreal, eating out is a way of life, and not too many people are worried about the bill at the end. I've eaten at some Bistros in Toronto, and they're not bad. I think restaurant chains like the Keg, have more success than independent restaurant/bistros. I also find it funny that Poutine is so popular here in Toronto... I guess we can call that a success! I also think it's normal for people to support local businesses, but it shouldn't be the deciding factor on why you want to eat at a restaurant. People these days are looking for fresh, local, different all for a reasonable price. Toronto is a lot more picky in dining (and a lot of other things), and is a difficult market to satisfy especially with restaurant saturation.
M-PC / May 31, 2011 at 01:20 pm
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La Distillerie is a Montreal business I would LOVE to see in Toronto. http://www.pubdistillerie.com/v2/index.php
mike in parkdale / May 31, 2011 at 01:27 pm
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the location where 'm:brgr' set up shop is cursed. Not cursed by evil spirits or anything, just there's been a long line of failed restaurants in that space. They really should chop the space into half.
Ally @ EatDrinkToronto / May 31, 2011 at 01:59 pm
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Arrrrgh I had a groupon for m:brgr! Poop. I can't believe this place didn't do well - they had a fantastic menu and I always heard very good things.
Maria replying to a comment from Ally @ EatDrinkToronto / May 31, 2011 at 02:01 pm
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Really? Because I heard nothing but bad things. It's the one place in town for which I never heard anything good.
Redgee / May 31, 2011 at 02:28 pm
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Aldo also originated in Montreal. Bombardier is headquartered in Montreal and it's doing just fine in Toronto. It provides our subway cars, GO Train cars, and Q400 and CRJ airplanes that work out of Pearson and Toronto Island Airport. I think Montreal businesses are thriving just fine here.

The location M:Burger occupied must be cursed. Over the 5 years I've worked down the street, and even before that from hanging around the area, I've lost count the number of bars and restaurants (at least 4?) that have come and gone.

Perhaps with the explosion of condos and other new businesses in the area, this spot can shed the curse.
Redgee replying to a comment from Todd / May 31, 2011 at 02:30 pm
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Betcha Swiss Chalet chased them away. They were just too similar. But I did love St. Hubert's.
Redgee / May 31, 2011 at 02:35 pm
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Oh yeah. And BIXI?
nomas replying to a comment from Redgee / May 31, 2011 at 02:36 pm
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There has been 3 restaurants there in the past 10 or so years.

Shoeless Joes: Early 2000's - 2007/8 ish
Stix n' Stones: 2008-early 2010
M:Brgr: 2010 - 2011
bjws / May 31, 2011 at 03:04 pm
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It seems like a no brainer that a "posh" burger place just is not going to fly in Toronto. Nor should it! All the best burger places in the city or the suburbs are smaller "greasy" type places. People do not want to spend $10 on a burger that is no better than what we can make at home. I've eaten at most of the newer "upscale" burger spots downtown and have yet to be impressed by even one of the places. If I am there for a burger, I don't need a server...just tell me when the thing is ready and call me up to pick my toppings.

From a pure business perspective, how could a burger place possibly last if the rent is $24,000 a month?
S / May 31, 2011 at 03:06 pm
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They should have opened a restaurant in Vaughan or Mississauga first for a test run. Downtown Toronto is not the same as downtown Montreal.
lister / May 31, 2011 at 03:36 pm
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Even if they would have done better, the restaurant would have had to find another location in the next few years as that building and the LCBO next door are slated for a new condo development. Fortunately the LCBO will be a tenant in the new condo building.
Redgee replying to a comment from bjws / May 31, 2011 at 04:13 pm
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Yes and no. Just a 3 minute walk west is a small called Big Smoke Burger (previously Craft Burger) which sells "posh" or "gourmet" burgers. Burgers are $10 or so. I'm not particularly picky, so that's expensive for me. But the few times I've tried it they are pretty damn good. There is almost always a line up around week day lunch hour, and I usually see people in there at other times. It has a few other "posh" locations around town. Within the same vicinity are what I would consider overpriced "gourmet" fish 'n chips, and fancy sandwich shops, also both very busy. My point is, there is a market for this kind of stuff around here. But clearly there was something else wrong with M:Brgr business plan.
Melissa / May 31, 2011 at 04:14 pm
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The proof is in the pudding! These restos. need to research first, then lease later. They also need to consider that Montreal is heavily Euro-influenced, whereas Toronto is not. Concept restos. like these don't really fly unless their situated in the right areas.
illu45 / May 31, 2011 at 04:39 pm
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Cora's does quite well in Toronto, although it isn't exactly 'bistro' dining.
lowrez replying to a comment from Sandman / May 31, 2011 at 05:17 pm
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There is no conspiracy in Toronto against Montreal businesses. I guarantee most people don't even realize these businesses came from Montreal.
simuls / May 31, 2011 at 06:21 pm
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Man, I just ate there about ten days ago to use my Groupon! So lucky I did. Regardless, I wouldn't be going back. It was ok, but the vibe was not very good. Space was wayyyyy too big and loud, even when empty. Agree it should be chopped up into smaller units.
Adam Sobolak / May 31, 2011 at 08:43 pm
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Another Montreal (I think) chain that's endured around these parts: Bedo.

And I suppose Metro might count (so far)...
l / May 31, 2011 at 08:48 pm
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$100 burgers are for assholes.
Mezimeen / May 31, 2011 at 09:04 pm
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Ok. I live across te street of M:Brgr and I've been here long enough to see past tenants come and go, as well as the burger crazy explode. m:Brgr was expensive, even for the area. A burger withe fries and a beer was $25!!! That's insane. Take away the brew and you're still hovering around $17-18, and it was still a hopeless burger: I love burgers, and I've tasted a lot around Toronto and m:Brgr for the time a went sucked. It was nothing special and certainly not worth the price. For $10-12 I can get a much MUCH better burger at CRAFT (aka Crack Burger) or is it big smoke, whatever. So anyway....I'm not surprised it failed.
arrogantfrenchman / June 1, 2011 at 01:19 am
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Les 3 Brasseurs is French, I mean real french, not from Quebec.
Cindy / June 1, 2011 at 08:23 am
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What a shame! We ended up at m:Brgr a couple weeks ago for after dinner drinks. I'm not a meat eater but the atmosphere for just hanging out and having drinks was great. Our waiter was one of the friendliest ever. To top it off we got free desserts for our table!
iSkyscraper / June 1, 2011 at 09:20 am
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Peel Pub did simply amazing business for a few years in Toronto before eventually vanishing -- not sure if you would count that as a success or failure for Montreal brands.
john / June 1, 2011 at 09:22 am
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yeah I went to M-brgr once with my gf and we both said that while the food was "ok", the prices were ridiculous -- not that I mind paying $10 for a quality burger, but they were trying to charge $2 extra for each topping, which was just insulting.. you're quickly up to $16 for a slightly above avg burger with a couple of toppings and that doesn't include any side dishes... i'm not surprised it failed; i doubt they got much repeat business beyond expense account lunches.
ttraveller / June 1, 2011 at 11:44 am
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Yes location is critical. But when it comes to food, Toronto's formula echoes our bush league values. We project $100 schtick and spend $5 at the register. Unless your company is paying, ignore this at your peril.
Vivyruest / June 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm
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Seriously, why is there always a squad of frenchies' haters on Blog T.O. everytime there's a mention of something "Québec"?...in the comment section that is.
I did like the article, it did bring an interesting question but I do agree with other of the commenters regarding the fact that it probably did fail because it was over-priced and not well located.
It's like anything: Make it easy to get, Make them addicted...then you lift the price ;))
itdoesnot replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / June 1, 2011 at 01:07 pm
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Peel Pub failed miserably in Montreal as well.

The Peel/St Catherine's one has been gone for about 10 years.

Just like the Toronto one has.
Redgee / June 1, 2011 at 02:22 pm
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Bank of Montreal has the tallest bank tower in Toronto. They sure failed didn't they.
fdd / June 1, 2011 at 02:48 pm
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Moog audio and Preloved seem to be doing well in T.O.
fdd / June 1, 2011 at 02:51 pm
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Also, maybe if Montrealers warmed up to Ontario there wouldn't be a backlash. They really give off a lot of attitude and negativity to Torontonians when we spend our tourist dollars there. Kill the attitude and you will get more support!!!!
Steve replying to a comment from fdd / June 1, 2011 at 03:36 pm
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I'm pretty sure no one cares where the business was started as long as it's a good product or service that provides value. You'd be a sociopath with an agenda if you thought otherwise.
Jackie replying to a comment from Ally @ EatDrinkToronto / June 2, 2011 at 09:20 am
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I had one from FabFind that I hadn't used, so I emailed them to ask about it - they were very polite and friendly, and refunded the money on my credit card immediately.
Terrence / June 2, 2011 at 10:57 am
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For me I always go to BQM Diner where the burgers are awesome and I can get a pint of PBR for $4.
Mbrgr problem was that it was too big and expensive - remember Hal Burgers on adelaide?
Monesti Tabernac / June 2, 2011 at 05:47 pm
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It's because Torontonians have bad taste. They like going to the Keg for steak, and Steves for a dog-shit breakfast, they are hosers. They sniff out a place is from the great city of Montreal and they subconsciously avoid it, no one wants to create success out of a Montreal place, fair Torontonians would have to admit things are tastier and better in the belle province.
Make it!
Guy / June 2, 2011 at 06:18 pm
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It is because everyone in Toronto is either a Sikh or a red faced hick. God toronto is so lame!
Sunny / June 3, 2011 at 02:12 pm
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Guy, I'm a Sikh , call me lame to my face you fuckin TWAT. Keep your racist comments to yourself or say to my face and I’ll show you how lame Sikh’s are you cock sucker.
Jeff replying to a comment from Monesti Tabernac / June 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm
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Perhaps french snobbery is actually clearest in such mangled English.

Maybe you feel alienated by English Canada, and the real French(from France) consider your food garbage and your language some form of grotesque patois. Cry about it.

Schwartz's is overrated, and what kind of a deli doesn't serve chicken soup? And, they're called bay-gels.

Montreal has great food and it's a terrific city, but such condescending attitudes about Toronto are old and tired beyond belief.
moe / June 7, 2011 at 11:55 am
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M:brgr did not serve that good of a burger in my opinion. They were a goner to begin with.
dy / June 8, 2011 at 10:08 am
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lets be serious, montreal fuckin sucks
EB / June 12, 2011 at 02:41 am
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I just moved back from Montreal.

Montrealers' have lower standards of what constitutes great food and service (i loath the service in mtl, and got food poisoning a number of times while living there). Though they are obviously our nation's fashion forecasters, they're way behind culinary trends- seriously? another burger bar on king? not to mention the stark decor..

Step it up, bring something that Torontonians aren't already bored of- we're hasty!
Sarah / June 19, 2011 at 05:31 pm
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M brgr has never done well in Montreal and is always empty when I walk by. I have eaten there twice and both times I was very unimpressed. It has nothing to do with the fact that this chain is from Montreal and has everything to do with the fact that their burgers aren't very good. Any Montrealers would choose a 4$ burger at BUNS then this place.
Sarah / June 19, 2011 at 05:33 pm
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@Sunny how dare you get mad at someone for making a racist comment when you turn around a make a gay comment about them. You're just as bad. Shame on you. Shame on the both of you.
Sarah replying to a comment from Sunny / June 19, 2011 at 05:33 pm
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@Sunny how dare you get mad at someone for making a racist comment when you turn around a make a gay comment about them. You're just as bad. Shame on you. Shame on the both of you
Francois / June 19, 2011 at 06:03 pm
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You're all forgetting the indescribable Bâton Rouge.

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