The barbecue season is well underway and something is cooking at the Adélard Bélanger et fils: the Atwater Market pioneer is about to change hands. Over the next year, Éliane Bélanger, the founder’s great-granddaughter, and two long-time employees, Sébastien Perras and Charles Cuny, will become the owners of the establishment.
This transfer of power does not frighten the future owners, who have all earned their stripes within the business. “It’s quite a challenge to take over a 90-year-old butcher shop, Atwater Market’s first I believe! But the business has its history, it’s well established and the foundations are solid. It’s not like we’re starting something new, we have a very loyal clientele,” says Sébastien, who has been working with the Bélanger family for the last ten years.
As for Éliane, she has been working in the family business as long as she can remember, “I was working at 8 or 9, perched on a milk crate!” However, taking over the family business was not originally part of her plan. She first studied industrial relations and later decided to explore the art of cooking. “It’s only recently that the opportunity to take over from the current owners (her father, René Bélanger, and his cousin, Éric Perreault) materialized. It wasn’t planned, but when the chance came up, I seized it,” says the woman who started the now hugely popular ready-made dishes sold at the butcher shop.
To complete the team of new owners, Éliane and Sébastien chose Charles, a 25-year-old Frenchman trained in France. “When Charles arrived at the butcher shop three years ago, it was like a blessing! He met some needs we had. The three of us make a super team where we can each put our strengths forward,” claims Éliane. “We complement each other,” adds Sébastien about the tight-knit team. “We each have our responsibilities and we give each other space. Above all, we’re friends!”
History in Motion
The Bélanger family has been at Atwater Market since it opened in 1933. From Adélard to Éliane, the Bélanger have always kept a strong grip on the business. “I’ve seen the market evolve,” says Éliane, 35, remembering a time not so long ago when the floor was covered with sawdust and people still smoked indoors. “Before people were more concerned about quantity than quality. Today, they care more about quality, they’re more epicurean.” The butcher shop also has its share of customers who have been coming in for decades. “Not a week goes by without a customer telling us stories about Jean, Éliane’s grandfather,” marvels Sébastien. But tradition certainly doesn’t stifle the young trio who is quietly brainstorming ideas to be set in motion when the transfer is confirmed in a few months.
Renovations to modernize the workspace and revamp the counters are on the menu. Fact is that Éliane’s involvement also brings a wind of change in a traditionally male environment. “There aren’t many women in butchery, that’s true, but we’re seeing more and more,” she says, adding that some were skeptical about a woman’s ability to take over the family business.
“When a 500-pound carcass comes in, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it alone. But I’ve proven myself. […] I finally found a job where I feel valued, where my skills are recognized and appreciated,” she says. “One thing will not change, we’ll always respect the shop’s traditions and history,” says Sébastien. “It must stay a family-size business, where employees have fun and customers are impeccably served.”
Quick Questions to Sébastien Perras
What motivates you to get up so early every morning?
I love my job, so I don’t have a hard time getting up in the morning! I know I’m going to have a busy day and that my work will make people happy.
Name a product one must get when visiting your shop?
The beef flank steak in sweet onion marinade, we’re renowned for it. It’s our biggest seller! And it’s fantastic on the barbecue.
Describe the market atmosphere in a few words?
The joy and mutual help merchants share.
Text by Benoit Valois-Nadeau from Caribou Mag magazine Caribou Mag
Translated by Marie-Andrée Parent
Photos: Daphné Caron
Read all the FAMILY PORTRAITS
Producers, merchants and artisans together make up the Montréal Public Markets’ extended family. For years, often for generations, they’ve been getting up early, experimenting, sometimes starting over, nurturing, harvesting and flourishing! Day after day, they stand proudly behind their stalls as if by their own dining-room table, inviting us to feast. They’re the heart and soul of the markets – their very essence – and the reason we keep coming back. The Family Portrait series aims to pay tribute to all the pillars of our public markets.
This project is funded through the Programme Proximité of the ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation, a program implemented under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership according to an agreement between the governments of Canada and Québec.