Bens Restaurant closes forever

Bens Restaurant, a Montreal deli favoured by luminaries like Liberace and Leonard Cohen, is closing permanently after a drawn-out labour dispute.

Bens Restaurant, a Montreal deli favoured by luminaries from Liberace to Leonard Cohen, is closing permanently after a drawn-out labour dispute.

The Kravitz family, which has owned the restaurant since its inception 98 years ago, announced Friday they've struck a deal with a local museum that has agreed to preserve the collection of tchotchkes and autographed pictures that decorated the yellow and chrome deli.

The restaurant has been closed since workers went on strike July 20. Some employees, who boasted more than 50 years of service at the deli, complained Bens was increasingly neglected and growing dilapidated.

They demanded higher wages and better working conditions, but negotiations between the employees' union and Bens' owners fell flat.

A family spokesman said it had become too difficult for Bens to turn a profitsince its employees joined the CSN union federation in 1995.

"You know, you couldn't have your smoked meat sandwich and your coleslaw and your fries and your cherry Coke [for] under $10 in the present context," Bernard Voyer told CBC.

The owner and manager of Bens, 83-year old Jean Kravitz, told Canadian Press that she harbours no bitterness toward her former employees and said their decades of service speaks to the way they were treated at the restaurant.

On Friday, the deli's loyal customers were disappointed to learn they could no longer savour Bens' trademark smoked meat, fries and coleslaw plate.

"I always enjoyed it. It has a lot of history to it. We brought our relatives from the U.S. [to the deli] when they came here," said Andy Larivière.

A steady stream of celebrities frequented Bens, including former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, singer and actor Bette Midler and the Montreal Canadiens hockey team.

A 28-floor office tower worth $150 million is planned for the area, but Bens' owners declined earlier this fall to sell the delion the corner of Metcalfe and Maisonneuve streets in downtown Montreal.

The restaurant was founded by Ben Kravitz when he immigrated to Montreal from Latvia, a century ago.

With files from Canadian Press