Though downtown Montreal is filled with dépanneurs, the small establishment in the basement of the Cartier Building on Peel and Sherbrooke Streets is the only one that has several hundred loaves of bread delivered fresh every morning.
That dépanneur, known as Super Sandwich because of the red-and-blue neon sign advertising “Super Sandwiches” mounted in the window, needs the loaves in order to make the hundreds of sandwiches it sells each afternoon. The dépanneur is a popular lunch spot for professionals downtown as well as students and staff at McGill, most of whom order in English.
“I would say maybe 80 per cent are Anglophones and 20 per cent are Francophones,” said Mathis Lo, 31, who runs the dépanneur with his sister.
Lo’s parents, originally from Mauritius, a tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, immigrated to Canada from Norway, where Lo was born, in the late 1980s. They purchased the basement dépanneur shortly after arriving in Montreal, which Lo estimated sold only about 50 sandwiches per day under the previous owners. As Lo’s parents expanded the menu, however, adding items such as chicken salad, sandwiches became a more important part of the business.
According to Lo, sales increased dramatically when he and his sister began running the dépanneur after his father suffered a stroke four years ago. He now sells 200 to 300 sandwiches per day. Though the dépanneur still stocks the typical assortment of canned goods, batteries and cigarettes, sandwiches now make up about 70 per cent of its sales when school is in session.
A large portion of Super Sandwich’s business comes from the dépanneur’s loyal customers, many of whom buy several sandwiches per week.
“We have a lot of regulars who come three or four times a week,” Lo said. “There’s one McGill student who buys two sandwiches a day and has been coming for the past four or five years.”
One of those regulars is Jonathan Pollack, a third-year mechanical engineering student at McGill who has been coming to the dépanneur for the past two years and usually orders the chicken salad.
“It’s truly a super sandwich,” Pollack said with a laugh.
Because the dépanneur’s prices are fairly low – the most expensive sandwiches cost four dollars, Lo said – business has not been affected by the recession. Raymond, a Francophone regular who declined to give his last name, called the prices cheap enough to be “a joke.” And Lo noted that Super Sandwich’s closest competitors, the three or four Subway restaurants within several blocks of the Cartier building, charge significantly more for their sandwiches.
Despite all the regulars, Super Sandwich doesn’t offer a discount for customers who buy a certain number of sandwiches, which Lo said he couldn’t afford. This has proved frustrating to James Shubin, a staff member at McGill’s School of Computer Science who visits Super Sandwich twice a week and habitually requests receipts with his sandwiches.
“One day I’ll have a thousand Super Sandwich receipts and I’ll get a free sandwich,” joked Shubin, who usually orders brie or egg salad.