Montrealers in Little Italy celebrate reopening of Milano grocery store

Daybreak's Shari Okeke talks to Montrealers eager to see Milano grocery in Little Italy reopen because they say it's a vibrant part of the community they've missed while it's been closed.

Local instution back in business after 3 months of repairs

Milano grocery store is about to reopen after a fire forced owners to close in June. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Montrealers who normally shop at Milano grocery store on St-Laurent Boulevard are celebrating its reopening today, more than three months after a fire forced the business to close for repairs.

The family-run business was opened in 1954 by two brothers and has become an institution in Montreal's Little Italy neighbourhood.  

Daybreak's Shari Okeke spent time in Little Italy this week talking to customers to find out why Milano is special to them and has them counting down the days, hours and minutes to its reopening.

'It's inspiring'

Marie-Andrée Corneille has been peering through the window at Milano, waiting to see signs that the store is reopening. 

She's been a customer at the Italian specialty grocery store for more than 30 years.

Corneille says her brother-in-law is Italian and she loves to cook Italian food. 

Although she cans her own tomatoes, Corneille also comes to Milano specifically to buy small canned tomatoes. She raves about the veal, the pasta, the cheese and the olive oil, too.

It's also a place that raises her spirits.

"When you have nothing on a Sunday afternoon you come here and it's fun, it's inspiring. I think Italian cooking is the best in the world, they really know how to eat and how to live," she said.

Marie-Andrée Corneille has been shopping at Milano grocery store for 30 years and is eager for the reopening Wednesday. "It's inspiring because I think Italian cooking is the best in the world. They really know how to eat and how to live," she said. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Like family

Sitting outside San Simeon Cafe on Dante street with some friends, Pat Pierri says he can't wait to get back inside Milano to buy his favourite tuna.

"Rio Mare tuna is the best tuna from Europe!" he says, adding that he is European and often travels to Europe.

"But if you haven't gone to Europe or don't know a lot of the Italian products, you walk in [Milano] and you feel like you're walking the streets of Florence and Rome," said Pierri, a loyal customer for 10 years.  

Pierri insists Milano has the best prices when it comes to his favourite food, but his connection to the grocery store goes beyond shopping.

"We all know each other, we walk in there, we live in the neighbourhood, we say 'hi' to the manager, we know the cashier...we have our daily conversations," he said.

"It's really a family-oriented business that really knows how to talk to its customers, and that's what we miss," he said.

Pat Pierri, seen here with friends Elisa Gasparrini and Robert Guede at a cafe in Little Italy. says he misses buying his favourite tuna at Milano grocery store. 'It's really a family-oriented business that really knows how to talk to its customers and that's what we miss,' he said. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

The countdown

McGill University doctoral student Nassim Noroozi looks at her watch as she sips coffee at Cafe Italia, next door to Milano.

She's counting down the days and the hours to Milano's reopening.

"It really is heavy on the budget when we don't have Milano," Noroozi said, adding that she's learned a lot about Italian food as a Milano customer. 

But like many other customers, she insists the reopening means more to her than an ordinary shopping trip.

"Something was missing in the neighbourhood when it wasn't there. It adds to the livelihood of the place and I talked to a couple of people here at the cafe and they said it was about time, they [too] really missed Milano," she said.

McGill University doctoral student Nassim Noroozi says her budget has taken a hit while Milano's was closed. 'I'm not exaggerating, I'm counting the days' until it reopens, she said. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

'Can't wait' to reopen, says co-owner

No one is more eager for Milano to reopen than co-owner Mario Zaurrini.

"I'm relieved," he said, after more than three months of repairs that he estimates cost millions of dollars.

Zaurrini says the closure meant laying off 60 employees. All but six have returned and there are 10 new employees, he said.

Milano co-owner Mario Zaurrini is eager to reopen after a fire forced him to close for more than three months. 'I'm very happy and I just can't wait to greet our customers, old and new, into the store and I want to make them feel at home,' he said. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

The new Milano will include a pastry section and a new oven for Milano to bake its own bread.

The deli department, which suffered the worst damage, has been completely repaired and now has new refrigerated counters.

The store was also able to salvage some refrigerated counters and blades for slicing meat, which have all been cleaned and disinfected.

Construction workers were finishing up the new fruits and vegetable section this week and Zaurrini says they'd likely continue working through the night Tuesday to be ready for the the reopening.

 "I just can't wait to greet our customers, old and new, into the store and I want to make them feel at home," Zaurrini said.

About the Author

Shari Okeke

Shari Okeke is writer/broadcaster for Daybreak on CBC Radio, and creator of Mic Drop, a CBC original podcast. She was born and raised in Montreal.