After a Customs and Border Protection officer stopped Lex Gopnik-Lewinski at the airport from returning to San Francisco with his traditional Montreal-style smoked meat from Canada, he decided to take the matter — and the meat — into his own hands.
Six years later, after developing recipes, planning and partnering with an expert in the food industry, Gopnik-Lewinski opened Augie’s Montreal Deli, a restaurant inspired by Canadian cuisine. Located at 875 Potter Street in Berkeley, Augie’s Montreal Deli serves a variety of sandwiches, salads and poutine, a popular Canadian dish composed of french fries covered in gravy and cheese curd.
“We do not serve corned beef. We do not serve pastrami. We serve an incredibly tasty, luscious lovechild of corned beef and pastrami,” Gopnik-Lewinski said of the restaurant’s smoked meat, which is cured, smoked, rubbed and baked in order to get the texture of corned beef and the spice of pastrami.
Augie’s also serves desserts, which include Canadian candy and cheesecake, as well as a rye bread twist on latkes, a traditional Jewish fried potato dish.
With wine and beer coming into Augie’s Montreal Deli within the next month and hockey already streaming from the restaurant TVs, Gopnik-Lewinski said he hopes Augie’s succeeds as the first “East Bay hockey bar.”
“Our target audience is really everyone, starting with Canadians and people who’ve visited,” Gopnik-Lewinski said.
Bar snacks such as smoked meat popcorn, Montreal-style beef ribs and a matzo ball soup will also be incorporated into the menu, according to Chef MikeC.
Gopnik-Lewinski, a musician and audio engineer with no prior food experience, initially began to sell his meat at pop-up events in Beauty’s Bagel Shop, a Montreal-style bagel shop in Oakland.
After he was approached by a few investors at these pop-ups, Gopnik-Lewinski decided to move forward with a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Gopnik-Lewinski named the restaurant after his oldest son, Augie, and he named several menu items after his youngest son, Attie, and his daughter, Georgie.
The restaurant was originally scheduled to open Wednesday but was forced to delay its opening until Saturday because of unexpected construction difficulties.
“One of the biggest challenges for us was opening directly after having the majority of our construction wrap up,” Chef MikeC said. That left the Augie’s crew with little time to settle in, train the staff and “work out all the kinks,” according to Chef MikeC.
Another unexpected but positive twist was the restaurant’s high customer volume, beginning with its opening day Saturday, according to Chef MikeC.
Educating the American public about smoked meat and creating demand for Canadian cuisine would be a sign of the restaurant’s success, according to Chef MikeC. “Smoke meat is not at all barbecue. It’s a completely new product,” Chef MikeC said.
Chef MikeC was working as a food and wine business consultant before he tasted Gopnik-Lewinski’s smoke meat and “fell instantly in love.” Gopnik-Lewinski’s project was too good to turn down, he said, although he had not planned on going into a business ownership.
Stefanie Pursell, who visited Augie’s Montreal Deli, said she and her husband eat smoked meat and poutine whenever they go back to Montreal and have also been customers of Gopnik-Lewinski’s pop-up for years.
The biggest appeal of the restaurant is that Augie’s serves authentic Montreal-style food that hasn’t been changed to “fit here,” according to Pursell, and that its menu is not a fusion style that some restaurants serve.
“I’m ultimately hoping that Lex does well and the restaurant does well,” Pursell said. “And that it becomes that neighborhood gem, that small, intimate space that people go to get really good food that is filling and that makes you feel good when you leave.”