Coffee and donuts are an age-old combination. But Chez Boris, located on the corner of Avenue du Parc and Avenue Laurier, made the pair extra-good. The quirky café—known for its ¢75 Russian-style beignets and incredible coffee—opened in August 2012; just five years later, it’s closing its doors.
On March 1, Chez Boris made the announcement on its Facebook page that the café would be gone for good come the end of April, citing a new landlord who has decided not to renew its lease as the main reason for closing. Yet, according to the manager of the café, Michael Heinermann, this came at the right time. The owner and creator, Boris Volfson, is permanently situated in Baltimore, Maryland, which makes managing the café slightly more difficult. And for many people, Volfson is a large part of the draw to the café.
“[Volfson is] a great guy, and when he’s in town, we see a lot more people come in [.…] He’s a good boss. Not really a boss, kind of a friend,” Heinermann said.
Heinermann and four other employees of Chez Boris recently began to develop a co-op to continue the café’s legacy—going by the name of “Beigne Oui.” The employees behind the co-op plan to continue serving donuts—among other fried-foods—using a democratic pricing system decided by its membership, as most food co-ops do.
Volfson is in full support of the plans to turn the café into a co-op. Though he tried to find a new space for Chez Boris himself, serious interests did not turn into serious offers. As a result, the café’s staff has taken matters into their own hands, continuing to pursue a co-op space. The determination of the staff is a true testament to what Chez Boris means to the Mile-End community. It’s more than a café; it’s a part of the neighbourhood itself, a reflection of the value its attendees place in support and togetherness.
“It’s the people that come here [that make it special],” Heinermann said.
The importance of the café’s communal aspect is a shared sentiment. Helena Lin, U3 Arts, is a Montreal café fiend. A photographer for Foodora, blogger for McGill’s chapter of Spoon University, and soon-to-be manager at Hôtel Ambrose’s café, she has an eye for only the best—and that includes Chez Boris.
“[Chez Boris is] a place where people on all walks of life feel welcome to come in for some comfort in the form of donuts and coffee,” Lin said. “[It] was never a café about making money, it was never a café that wanted to be the next Instagram hot spot or the best third wave spot in Montreal. Chez Boris has always been a café about building community, about supporting everyone who came in.”
Lin emphasized the role that the staff and Volfson have had in making Chez Boris what it is, creating an entire experience out of the café that supersedes the traditional. In a way, Chez Boris feels like a haven from city life. From the funky background music to the smell of fresh donuts, its instant comfort and coziness undoubtedly make Chez Boris into something greater than a café.
Moreover, the café has made itself known as a friend to local artists, hosting art shows and selling one-of-a-kind pieces on its walls that fit right in alongside a mini library and collection of board games. No one goes there simply for the aesthetically-pleasing scene or the phenomenal food as they may at other cafés—people go because there is a unique sense of belonging.
“You’ll always be able to find a good café in Montreal, but you surely will not be able to find any other place like Chez Boris,” Lin said.
The closing of Chez Boris is more than sad; it is the end of something irreplaceable. Though its legacy will carry on through the Beigne Oui co-op, come the end of April the donuts will not be forgotten—and neither will the space that made them so wonderful.