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(MTL) How does Waldman's survive? Any other fishmonger suggestions in the lower Plateau?

I just moved to the neigborhood around the square St Louis. Imagine my joy seeing many butchers, cheese and specialty shops, a bulk food store and numerous little takeout places. I almost fainted when I saw Waldman's, the big fishmonger, when I was househunting. I was sold immediately (I should have checked inside though). After a month in the neighborhood, I am still happy with a full belly.

However, the fish situation is puzzling me. I went to Waldman's multiple times, weekdays, weekends, early mornings, afternoons and not only didn't see any fish fresh enough for me to attempt purchasing, but also I saw no one else shopping. The place was literally deserted every time I passed by or set my food in. I don't get it.

I learned that the owner also operates La Mer, which is apparently highly regarded by the chowhounders. That makes the case even more puzzling. Seriously, I have seen much better fish in Wisconsin. Knowing that both institutions are owned by the same individual, is it even worth to take a trip to La Mer?

I don't get the situation. My one month in Montreal have thought me that Montrealers have extremely high standards when it comes to buying food So how does Waldman's survive operating a such big establishment by offering fish with flabby bodies and dull eyes to this crowd? Is there a secret code for getting fresh fish? If not, where should I go?

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  1. Waldman's used to be an excellent fishmonger - I lived close by when that was possible for people without a lot of money (the artists started fixing up the place, and...) It was very much patronised by the neighbourhood people, especially the large Portuguese community, who as you can imagine are fussy about their fish.

    I don't know if it is the current owner, but a couple of decades back, the owner sacked all the experienced fishmongers to replace them with younger and cheaper staff, and the Portuguese clients stayed away in droves. I have no idea how the place stays open - it used to be as packed as a tin of sardines (sorry...) and there is no way to have quality fish without rapid turnover.

    6 Replies
    1. re: lagatta

      There's a bulk food store near Carré St-Louis?
      Waldman's didn't only sack the experienced fishmongers (early '90s), they also made sure that no one got their pensions, for which they had contributed all their careers.
      The owner then declared bankruptcy, or sold it to his wife for a dollar (I can't remember exactly which it was), who then re-opened it as a numbered corporation, leaving the workers out in the lurch.
      It was a truly crappy business practise. I can't remember how it was all resolved, or even if it was.
      But, students new to the area who want fresh fish will go there. I used to eat at the resto, back when they had their all-you-can-eat mussel specials. Not that I ate a lot, but you could get about 3 half-size bowls with different sauces for $10. Pretty nice when you're on a budget.

      1. re: rillettes

        Yes, that was a sordid tale, and a lot of those were guys who were well into their fifties who had worked there for decades. I utterly refuse to shop there. But just in terms of quality and custom, I can't fathom how they manage to stay open (although I haven't lived there in decades, I pass by there frequently on my way to Fernando's wonderful poultry and game meats place) - never anyone in there, and real estate around that area is very costly now.

        I imagine that the educated, well-off residents of the Carré area must journey somewhere else for their fish. Can't think of anywhere really close by. I see a lot of Portuguese residents resorting to Portuguese frozen fish from local groceries.

        1. re: rillettes

          Frenco at 3985 St. Laurent is the bulk food store I am talking about. Not exactly on the square, but close enough.

          1. re: lagatta

            This touches on excellent advice. Find a Portuguese family and ask them where they buy their fish. They do seafood more often, and from what I've tasted, better than anyone. And since you're in the area, that can't be hard.

            1. re: JQReid

              Fantastic advice. It is time to make friends with some of my neighbors :)

          2. I have no idea how it stays open either. The restaurant there had a bad reputation and has been closed for months. I see that they're about to open again soon (the paper has been removed from the windows) but I am not optimistic.

            1. they probably do a fair trade in restaurant supply to keep them alive.

              1. Weren't they bought by one of the large grocery chains at some point?

                1. A carless friend who lives in the southern Plateau despairs over the fish situation, especially since the mongers easily accessible by metro (e.g. Shamrock and Aqua Mare at the Jean Talon market) are pretty dismal. She says -- and this is more a condemnation than a recommendation -- the best fish in the nabe is found in grocery stores like the Provigo on Jeanne Mance and Park Ave. When she's looking for more variety and higher quality, she schleps out to La Mer. It's just further proof that, from a retail standpoint, Montreal is not a seafood city.