Brownstein: Why Momesso's served its last sub earlier than expected

As soon as Paolo Momesso announced his beloved N.D.G. restaurant was closing, “the place was overwhelmed. There were lineups like we never saw before,” says his brother Sergio.

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Solveig Boroff was devastated, the way only a Momesso’s devotee could be. “I was so looking forward to one final sub. I also really wanted to partake in a Montreal historic moment.” 

Boroff’s friend Jane Hamilton was looking forward to her first taste of Momesso’s iconic Supreme sub. 

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“Momesso’s is a Montreal landmark. I wanted to come once before it’s gone forever,” the disappointed Hamilton said. “That will teach me to wait. My loss.” 

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Momesso’s officially closed shop Monday, five days ahead of schedule.  

Like the many others who arrived minutes before they thought the N.D.G. resto would start serving Tuesday at 11 a.m., Boroff and Hamilton hadn’t read or heard about the Facebook announcement on Monday that the restaurant wouldn’t open again. 

Two weeks ago, Paolo Momesso said his restaurant would close on Saturday, Jan. 27. 

But lest anyone suspect Paolo pulled a fast one by closing early, such is not the case. According to his brother Sergio Momesso, the physical strain of working up to 15 hours a day the last few weeks left Paolo, 68, burned out and exhausted. 

“My sister Sandra, myself and Paolo’s two daughters, Stephanie and Laura, wanted Paolo to go out healthy and enjoy his much-deserved retirement,” said Sergio, the former Habs player. “He was so looking forward to finally being able to travel and take a rest. He was there from the beginning, and when our father died in 2006, he was working non-stop. He really needed a break.” 

There were shockwaves in the city when Paolo announced last August that he wanted to sell his landmark diner, purveyor of the city’s most fabled Italian subs — and best, according to many. When that didn’t happen, he announced on Jan. 9 that he would be closing shop for good this Saturday. 

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“That was always his intention,” Sergio said. “But as soon as he announced he was closing, the place was overwhelmed. There were lineups like we never saw before. My sister, my nieces and myself were helping out, but Paolo is a one-man show. I’d tell him that I would do the beer and food orders, but he had to do everything himself. We were tired just watching him. So we all decided that was enough, that it was for the best for him to close on Monday instead.  

“He just couldn’t have done another week, and we apologize for that. But health comes before everything. He couldn’t sleep at night, always worrying about every detail. And don’t forget, he was always the one behind the grill. We were doing Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11 to 4 to try to accommodate everyone. He was there at 7 in the morning, prepping all the food. And his day was far from done at 4. He reordered for the next day. He was still at it hours later in the day. His mind kept going all the time.” 

In 2020, Sergio launched Momesso’s Sports Bar and Lounge in the Bonaventure arena on Côte-de-Liesse Rd., offering his family’s famed subs. But that ended with the closure of the arena in 2022. 

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When Paolo made the decision to hang up his smock, he said the work was taking its toll on him. 

“It’s time for me to move on,” he told me in an interview last August. “I’m getting up there. I’m an old man now. It’s getting tough and there are other things I want to do with my life. I’ve been working here since we first opened.”

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Momesso Caffe Sportivo, as it was officially registered, was founded by Alessandro Momesso in 1978. Alessandro took a rather circuitous route to his calling. Born in Cessalto, Italy, near Venice, he came to Canada in 1951 to play soccer. Subs turned out to be more lucrative. 

“What great memories (here)! I guess because I was working during those times, I didn’t always notice just how special the place was to so many who came,” Paolo noted in our August interview. “It’s so nice to hear people tell me how much Momesso’s has meant to them over the years, that it is a Montreal institution.” 

No doubt about that. Like a Wilensky’s or an Orange Julep or a Schwartz’s, our favourite feasting spots don’t have to be haute cuisine to become institutions.  

“Montreal has had its share of great institutions over the years,” Boroff said. “My fear is we will soon lose even more. It’s not by accident that Momesso’s made such an impact. It was about the food, but also about its heart and soul, too.” 

The food that had already been ordered for Momesso’s will be donated to a West Island food bank on Wednesday.

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