Time catches up to Murray’s
COMFORT AND SECURITY were always on the menu at restaurant’s outlets – but tastes and people change
For generations, it served up comfort and security along with tidy portions of boiled carrots, mashed potatoes, Salisbury steak and rice pudding.
Whether downtown or in Westmount, Old Montreal or Town of Mount Royal, Murray’s and its rotating 21-day menu of home-style meals guaranteed no surprises – and that’s just what Montrealers wanted.
But times changed, so did dining habits, and the once-robust chain founded by Murray Crawley and Fred McCracken in 1924, and which grew to include 16 restaurants in Eastern Canada, began to falter one restaurant at a time.
After the Murray’s on Sherbrooke St. W. in Westmount closed in 1999, the Murray’s in Town of Mount Royal was the last one in Montreal. Now, its day has come, too. Facing bankruptcy, owners of the landmark restaurant in T.M.R.’s Lucerne shopping mall have applied to a Quebec court for creditor protection.
Among the creditors are TD Canada Trust and First Capital Realty, the corporation that owns the strip mall where the restaurant is located. Court documents indicate they are owed close to $250,000.
“There will be no reopening of Mur- ray’s,” said Mike Ouellette, a Montreal accountant representing Mounir Yassa and his wife, Alice, the restaurant’s owners since in 2007.
Initially, there was interest from two potential buyers, Ouellette said.
But when those negotiations “didn’t work out,” closing the restaurant became the only option, he said this week.
As news spread yesterday among the loyal but dwindling ranks of the T.M.R. restaurant’s regular customers, many of them in their 80s and 90s, the sadness was palpable.
Even ex-Montrealers – not just those who enjoyed meals at the T.M.R. outlet but who patronized other Murray’s eateries in the city – expressed disappointment.
“In any list of indestructible Canadian middle-class institutions, Murray’s Restaurants belong right up there with John Diefenbaker and Hockey Night in Canada,” was how Weekend Magazine described the restaurant in a 1972 article.
And that’s how Madeleine Boosamra of T.M.R. saw it, too.
“We would go three or four times a week, Saturday nights, Sunday nights,” said Boosamra yesterday. “In those days, it was a real restaurant.”
Since the 1960s or the 1970s – she couldn’t remember exactly when – she said Murray’s has been a part of her life. And even though she had stopped eating at the restaurant so often, she still visited regularly for coffee.
Over the years, loyal customers like Boosamra have been as much a part of Murray’s winning formula as the restaurant’s food and service, said Peter Nasr, a former owner of the T.M.R. Murray’s.
“I’m as sad as anyone, if not sadder, because I really tried to keep it going,” said Nasr, who in 2007 sold the restaurant to Yassa.
Nasr said he realized the restaurant was heading for trouble as the average age of loyal customers crept up and many were no longer able to make it to the restaurant.
To fight those demographics, he said, he tried to attract new and younger customers by spicing up the menu and some of the blander items, including “boiled carrots.” But the older customers complained abut the sandwich wraps, filet mignon with a blue cheese demi-glaze and garlic shrimps.
“I don’t think the food really mattered,” Nasr said. “The restaurant had become a place to talk about old times and critique the new times.”