About St-Viateur Bagel

From Poland to Montreal

When he arrived in Canada in 1953, St-Viateur Bagel Shop founder Myer Lewkowicz didn’t know the first thing about baking anything, let alone bagels. He had grown up in a large, poor family in a Jewish village, or shtetl, near Krakow, Poland. Lewkowicz knew about not having enough to eat. In 1942, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. Years later, while speaking to a high school class, Lewkowicz said, “At Buchenwald, all I dreamt of was a piece of bread.”

Lewkowicz lived and worked in Germany after the war until 1952, when he was discovered by Jewish Immigration Aid Services of Canada. JIAS sent him to Montreal, where he got a job at Hyman Seligman’s Montreal Bagel Bakery on St-Laurent. Working with Seligman and his partners, Lewkowicz learned the bagel trade and 1957 he set up his own shop with Hyman Seligman on St-Viateur street with his wife Emma by his side.

New Ownership

Joe Morena was only fifteen when he started work at the Bagel Shop. He knew Myer Lewkowicz from delivering milk to his house on the weekend. Morena’s cousin worked around the corner from the bagel shop and convinced him to apply. Lewkowicz said, “Hey Yosel!”—the Yiddish name for Joe—and hired him to start that night. Serving so many older Jewish customers, Morena even learned to speak Yiddish. In 1974, after taking a short hiatus, he returned to the bagel business and became part owner of the business with Lewkowicz. The two worked as partners until Lewkowicz’s death in 1994, after which Joe Morena and Marco Sbalno partnered up to continue the tradition.

By 1998, Joe Morena estimated that he’d personally made some 25 million bagels! The Bagel Shop has been visited by thousands of customers—from native Montrealers to international tourists. The list of repeat customers includes local celebrities like Leonard Cohen, Georges St-Pierre, Roberto Luongo, Mordecai Richler, William Shatner and Céline Dion, as well as famous out-of-towners like Kelly Ripa, Harvey Keitel, James Woods and Adrian Grenier from Entourage.

The Next Generation

In 1996, Joe Morena, with sons Vincenzo, Nicolò and Roberto, along with his partner Marco Sbalno, began to expand their operations, opening up a new St-Viateur Bagel bakery-café on Mont-Royal Street. Another followed in 2001 on Monkland Avenue. In 2012 the third St-Viateur Bagel & Café opened its doors in D.D.O.. They also operate several more bakeries that serve not only Montreal, but all of North America.

As keepers of such a time-honoured tradition, the Morenas and Sblanos and their famous product have been widely recognized and celebrated, with newspaper and television coverage in media outlets across North America. St-Viateur bagels have also been featured on many Travel Channel, Food Network and other TV programs, including Bob Blumer’s Glutton for Punishment, The Today Show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda, and Anthony Bourdain’s shows No Reservations and The Layover.

Despite this continent-wide recognition, St-Viateur Bagel remains firmly rooted in its local community. Joe Morena, Marco Sblano and their families are committed to giving back to the neighbourhood and city that have supported them for so long. St-Viateur Bagel hosts an annual charity breakfast in support of the Generations Foundation to help fight child poverty in Montreal. The bagel shop has also held numerous fundraisers for the Montreal Children’s Foundation, the most successful of which—held in 2007 as part of St-Viateur Bagel’s 50th anniversary celebrations—broke previous records, raising more than $50,000.

The Morena boys

Like their fathers, the Morena boys have been in the bagel business since their early teens and proudly uphold the traditions passed on to them. They remain dedicated to this historic landmark and to the customers it serves, as well as to preserving Montreal’s cherished bagel tradition into the years to come.

St-Viateur Bagel has been baking its famous bagels for over 60 years and is proud to be the longest running bagel shop in Montreal.