Montreal-style deli wins over Chinese fans in Shanghai
Brian and Richard Tock have taken a page out of the Montreal classic delicatessen playbook and shipped it half way around the world to a most unusual yet welcoming place — Shanghai.
Since 2013, Tock’s, a Montreal-style deli in the Huangpu district near Shanghai’s famous Bund area, has been serving sandwiches swollen with Montreal-style smoked meats along with matzo ball soup and other iconic symbols of Eastern European comfort food. And the majority of their customers have been native Chinese.
“About 65 percent of our customers are Chinese and the other 35 percent are expats or tourists,” Brian Tock said in an interview with China Daily. “I think the Chinese are naturally curious about other cuisines and they do like meat, so I think there is a natural connection for them.”
Brian is the nephew of Richard Tock, a Montreal area resident who by day runs a company with his family selling headgear like ski hats and ear bands to retail outlets in Canada and the United States. In the 1980s, Tock befriended a Taiwanese business associate. When his friend would come to Montreal, Tock would take him out for a dinner that featured the city’s famed smoked deli meats.
Since he does business in China, Richard and his Taiwanese friend would talk about how great it would be to experience the delicacy in Shanghai. In 2012, a fortuitous series of events led to the opening a year later of the Montreal-style delicatessen in Shanghai.
Richard’s friend helped him learn the intricacies of Chinese bureaucracy to get the restaurant going. “It’s very hard to set up a business in China,” Richard said. “Aside from the language difficulties, I didn’t know a contractor to remodel the restaurant or who would supply my salt shakers and knives and forks. My friend really helped to get this off the ground.”
Meanwhile, his nephew Brian was working in the family headwear business but being a devoted foodie, longed for the day he could run a restaurant. Brian served an apprenticeship with a family friend in Montreal who owned a delicatessen to learn business basics, food preparation and eventually develop the recipes that would define Tock’s menu.
One of the most popular items on the menu is the brisket. “I get the beef from a supplier in Australia,” Brian said. Using his own rub, Tock smokes the meat until it has the desired mixture of taste and tenderness. A regular pastrami sandwich costs 75 yuan (C$12.98). A larger sandwich or monster version costs 95 yuan. The restaurant also features poutine, a classic Canadian serving of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. For the die-hard expats, you also can order a bottle of Moosehead beer to wash down your meal.
Brian was determined to provide a food experience as close to the Montreal scene as possible. A good example is the rye bread used for sandwiches.
th‘ I ink the Chinese are naturally curious about other cuisines and they do like meat, so I think there is a natural connection for them.” BRIAN TOCK MONTREAL BUSINESSMAN
“When we opened it was hard to find a purveyor who could provide us with rye bread. Now I am working with a bakery that I think gives us a rye as close to a Montreal-New York deli style as you will be able to find in China,” he said.
Tock’s has succeeded with very little advertising. “We have relied on word of mouth and in China that is very important,” said Brian. “When the product matches expectations it becomes a strong lure for the Chinese.”
“A lot of the growth is due to Brian,” said Richard. “He makes sure he talks to everyone who comes into the restaurant. Another reason is we got a very good social media response and that can be critical in China.” On Tripadvisor. com, Tock’s is ranked No 12 out of more than 12,000 restaurants in Shanghai.
Richard is both pleased and yet somewhat puzzled by the success of Tock’s with the Chinese. “I wish I knew,” he said. “I think part of it is that the Chinese like pork which is a salty meat. I think eating smoked meats was a natural extension for the Chinese.”
Brian said expansion is in the works. “We are in the process of locking down another space in Shanghai for our second restaurant.”