Saturday, October 22, 2011

Return to the Dirty Bakery

Breaded Bliss
QC, October 2011
About these photos: We're celebrating edible week as part of our latest Thematic theme. Please click here to share your own.
We've been here before. Indeed, my wife and I practically grew up here, as this is the bakery in the middle of the neighborhood, a place known as Chomedey, where we both grew up.

My parents used to give me money on Sunday mornings, and I'd walk the few blocks to this once-upon-a-time-residential-duplex and buy bagels, salt sticks, and other core components of our family brunch. The place was always packed, and the combination of little, quiet me and a boisterous crowd of hungry customers often meant a long wait until some kind-hearted staffer took pity on me. Eventually, they put in a number-ticket-queuing system, but I still got lost in the bagel-seeking mosh pit.

Quebec being what it was back then, there was no Sunday shopping. So the stretch of Samson Boulevard, normally so busy during the week that I'd never be allowed to walk there alone, was virtually empty. As I gathered my bags of baked goodies in my arms and headed for home, I remember feeling how warm everything was as I tried to resist the urge to grab a bite before I got home. Resistance was usually futile, and I'm sure my parents often wondered why the baker's dozen was often 11 when I did the shopping.

The place is officially known as Boulangerie Premiere Qualite, or Best Quality Bakery, but no one ever called it that. It always was, and likely always will be "The Dirty Bakery", which the current owners proudly echo in the corner of the sign. My in-laws and mother still live nearby, so whenever we visit, it's a must-stop spot for us after we leave them and turn the car toward home. We'll load up on bagels, danish and anything else we can think of and sneak a few bites in before we buckle in and hit the highway.

The kids always come inside with us, and we always step back a bit as they walk the same dusty linoleum floor that we walked - and waited on - so long ago. Back in London, a place where "bakery" doesn't grab the psyche of the community to the same degree that it does here, they get their bread from the baked goods aisle of the supermarket. They don't know what it's like to have time-worn businesses like the Dirty Bakery a short walk from the house. They don't get to walk through the doors and go back in time, to a place where the same oldish ladies clucked over the little ones after finally picking them out of the crowd, where every fixture seemed to be as old as time, where everyone in the place - customers and staff alike - seemed perfectly content that nothing ever really changed.

I'm sorry that my kids don't have access to the same experiences that we did. That they don't get to walk nearly-empty streets while the world took a much-needed one-day breather. That they didn't get to nibble surreptitiously on the warm end of a sesame-seed salt stick before turning back into the cold for the lonely, quiet walk home. As we finally pack our overstuffed bags of bagels into the hatch and leave this unassuming yet pivotal piece of our shared history in the rear-view mirror, I wonder what experiences our own kids will eventually try to share with their own children. I wonder what other Dirty Bakeries they'll get to hang onto - and pass along - as they become the parents that we are now.

Looking back, I wonder if my own parents ever had similar thoughts as they carefully prepared the package of money and instructions for my weekly trips to this place. I hope I was able to bring back everything they expected.

Your turn: Do you have an important place like the Dirty Bakery in your own history?


CorvusCorax12 said...

i have find memories of our local bakery growing up in Germany..fresh buns almost every morning :)

Kalei's Best Friend said...

We had the old Helms Bakery.. They even had trucks going thru neighborhoods selling their breads and other products.. Now they have turned the huge old building into other shops... I can imagine the smells from your bakery! omg... nothing is better than bread baking!

Little Nell said...

Sadly no bakery, but we did used to visit a good old English ‘Fish and Chip’ shop after we had been to swiming club on Autumn evenings. SIxpence (old money) would buy us a bag of chips with salt and vinegar, and for an extra penny ‘crispy bits’ which was the beads of batter which didn’t adhere to the fish !

Elephant's Child said...

I followed you home, and am happy I did. More information required though: why was/is the Dirty Bakery so named?
My huggable memory. My father was rarely away from home over night. If he was he brought home Toblerone chocolate. Bliss. We rarely got chocolate at other times and certainly not Toblerone.

A Paperback Writer Photos said...

There was a bakery on the corner of my street when I was a very small child. The owner was Dutch, I believe. I remember blue-painted gingerbread decorations on the outside of the building and these wonderful oblong butter cookies that seemed to melt away to nothing without chewing.

Anonymous said...

I also grew up in chomedey and have the same fond memories of the dirty bakery and I run back every time I visit chomedey. Thanks for this post about an important of our childhoods gwowing up in chomedey

Anonymous said...

Growing up in Chomedey as well now, living in Winnipeg, whenever I return I buy as much of that stuff as I can and store it in my freezer to slowly savour one special rumball at a time only to be eaten in honour of the most special of occasions.

carmilevy said...

I just received a delightful email from Fred Nykamp, who happened to live near the bakery some years ago. He wasn't able to post his comment to the blog, but said it would be OK for me to do so on his behalf. Here's his note:

I just came across your post about The Dirty Bakery as I was preparing to get some information about it for some friends of mine who have opened a bakery in Sauble Beach on Lake Huron, a very popular beach resort town here in Ontario with more than 15 miles of white sand beach and just a beautiful area..

Anyways, I grew up 2 streets away from the bakery and we could often smell the baking at 4 and 5 in the morning depending on which direction the wind was blowing. I was a regular there every morning and for a while when I worked in the area it was my job (pleasure) to pick up the cheese danish, cinnamon rolls or bagels for the whole work crew. Then when I worked in the city and took transit I would stop in before landing at the bus stop and the long trip to work…made the whole day something to look forward to. We got to know the owners and staff really well and still today.
We moved in 1987 and have since lived all over the world and been in some of the best bakeries, restaurants’, boulangeries, beckerie’s and patisserie’s but none compare to The Dirty Bakery….even today whenever we go back we order ahead of time to ensure we get everything and we have to bring back for our four children because they have grown up with the same…cheese bagels, danish, egg bread, cinnamon rolls and more….amazing and the experience continues, just wish we still lived a little closer at times. Thanks for writing the blog…

Some people ask why the name….well for a while it was actually on their sign out front, many years ago….because the place seemed a bit run down and maybe didn’t look that clean….which wasn’t the case, it was always spotless but it just wasn’t your typical looking bakery, a little bit more plain and simple than most, not renovated to look modern and slick, just made the whole experience even better and the reference started as the Dirty Bakery…and it actually became a real positive because only the locals could really relate to this name and then the owners thought….well what the heck…it has some charm lets put it on the sign….and it only became even more popular….and so the story goes….and lives on.

Sorry I couldn’t write on the blog it wouldn’t allow me a log in…but feel free to post my story if you like….

Anonymous said...

I just happened on this post while looking for some info on the Dirty Bakery. Thought I'd chime in with what I know on the history of the nickname. From what I know, the bakery is referred to as the dirty bakery due to a (now removed, I believe) sign I remember well that depicted the baker. It might still be on the side of the building, I'm not sure. It featured what is likely a true likeness of the owner at the time, a man with slight stubble and dark hair. It also showed a not golden enough brown beehive in the corner. Circling the man are, upon close inspection, bees but these, at any reasonable distance, look like flies. Scruffy man with flies => dirty bakery. My kids love the story, the egg bread and the amazing macaroons available for a limited time in the spring. Upon every visit, my son chuckles at the depiction of steaming bagels on the current front sign - the image does not help in dispelling the nickname, although I don't think anyone is trying to. It all just enhances the charm my kids love.

Mik said...

I used to live a block away, growing up there from the mid-70's until the late 90's. I remember buying a loaf of bread for 50-cents, and the kids on our block piling their bikes out front to buy hockey cards.
When I used to walk to school (Western Laval for a while), my friend (who's Dad was the baker/owner of this place) and I used to drop in for a "snack" in the morning.
I agree to this day that the cheese danishes, the knishes, and the breads are the best ever. It was a staple in our lives--and to this day, we still get there whenever we are back in Montreal.
As for the name--yeah, the previous post is exactly right about the sign on the side of the building with the baker, the stubble, etc. But that sign only went on in the 90's and later. It wasn't there in the early days. And I always DID think it was actually called "Durty", and not "dirty".
As for your photo--it too is outdated, since the sign out front is also changed.
M said...

Wow, If my parents would still be alive they would have been thrilled to read all these comments. This bakery has quite a history, but to make a long story short, My parents owned this bakery from 1965 to 1970 (roughly).I hated the place because I was was always working there. All trough high school (Chomedey High), all my friends were having a great time while I was stuck doing chores. Anyway, it was my mother who the present establishment (Hans and Kurt, 2 very nice bakers) the art of making latkes, verenikas, kishka, cheese bagel, knishes, potato Salad, even our own cole-slaw.
During our time the bakery was called Chomedey Hot Bagel, but secretly it had already been labeled by the general public as "The Dirty Bakery". I have an idea of whom the source is that sprung this label but I can't prove it.
Yes it's true, thee kitchen wasn't exactly a sterile place but over the years (before and after we had this place)I've seen a lot worse. It was one of my tasks to clean up at end of day during the summers. I would be washing dishes, trays until 10:30 at night.
Anyway, Hans and Kurt are professional bakers and confectioners and have done really well in keeping the tradition going and I thank them for that.

Ex-Chomedey resident said...

I absolutely love this bakery, although the customer service is iffy at times, mostly in recent years. Regardless, it brings back memories of my youth and to this day, I make it a point to go whenever I am in towb. Their bagels, bread and cheese danishes are exquisite. I have lots of nostalgia and memories of growing up in Laval, so this place holds a special place in my heart. I hope they never close! Been going for over 30 years now!!!

Anonymous said...

Actually, way back (like 50-60 years ago) the place was quite ‘dirty’. That’s where the nick name came from. New owners eventually took it over. They did not redecorate but they did keep the place much cleaner. However, the nickname ’Dirty Bakery’ always stuck. So much so, that they finally put up a sign that said ‘Dirty Bakery’.

Paul Pellat said...

In the mid 1960's when I moved to Chomedey I meet and became friendly with Abie Feller who was the owners son. It became my favorite bakery. I would often return even when I moved to CSL or Dollard after I got married or when visiting my parents when they still lived in Chomedey. After the business was sold I had my cousin Judy who worked in the store for decades. Really nothing like that here in Toronto.

Phil De Rosa said...

Sorry to have to correct a few of the bloggers. My family moved to Chomedey in early 1962 and quickly found the bakery that was to become known as The Dirty Bakery. It was my wife Esther, who was in the bakery with our neighbour Ellie, who noticed the owner/server had hairy legs and unshaven underarms, a common thing in Europe where she was from. Because of that my wife jokingly said that the bakery was dirty, but it wasn't, and the word got around to all our neighbours. We always shopped there as their bagels, rum balls, egg bread, and my favourite, Roman Apple Pie were to die for. We lived on 101st Ave. near Notre Dame for 42 years until we moved to BC in 2004. If I ever visit Montreal/Chomedey again I will definitely visit and buy some of their delights. I hope it hasn't changed much.

Apple IIGS said...

Sadly, I must report that the Dirty Bakery is no more. I drove by this afternoon (Aug 14, 2023) while visiting Chomedey for the first time in years, and was shocked to see the windows papered up and a "for sale" sign behind the glass.

A quick Google Maps search reveals the business is permanently closed, so it's unlikely it's a simple change of ownership or renovation. Looks like they went under sometime last year, in 2022 looking at reviews.

Rather upsetting, I'm a former resident of Chomedey and that bakery dates back to my childhood in the 70's. It's the end of a long era, it seems.

Paul Pellat said...




Anonymous said...

We were born in Toronto, but my dad was from Montreal, and we drove in often to visit family. Before returning home, my dad always made sure we stopped in The Dirty Bakery to pick up the round cinnamon raisin danish that was big enough for the family. We had them stocked up in our freezer. I loved those, and I can't find a duplicate anywhere.

They owners must have baked with love, because it's 50 years later and I'm still looking for the same item elsewhere.