Leonard Lighter, a man of many successes 

Leonard Lighter is the owner of Moishes Restaurant. It’s him you see orchestrating the room and greeting customers in the evening. Moishes may be over 80 years old, but the place hasn’t lost its zhuzh; on some nights it’s frequented by over 500 customers! Here is our interview with an exceptional husband, father, restaurateur, and businessman.

Moishes, a unique story

“My father immigrated to Montreal on his own from Romania at a young age, he must have been around 13. He worked in the neighbourhood, in several establishments. The restaurant where Moishes is located was called ‘Saffrin’s restaurant’ at the time. My father, Moishe Lighter, worked for the owner; my father was a gambler and so was the owner of Saffrin’s. In 1938 he gambled away the restaurant and won it (!). He renamed it “The Romanian Paradise”. During World War II, because of Romania’s position in the conflict, he renamed the restaurant to his name: ‘Moishes’ and it worked very well.” In 1950, they expanded the restaurant; the room where we enjoy our meal today is made up of four different buildings.

As a child, Leonard Lighter often ate from Moishes: “My father brought it home and every Saturday we would come to lunch at the restaurant with him and his friends.” When Leonard was in his early twenties, he started working at Moishes, without really knowing what he was going to do. “At first I worked doing laundry that was integrated into the restaurant, then I did the bar, then maître d’, and finally management. It all happened organically.” When his father began slowing down with his work, Leonard gradually took up more responsibility. When he passed away, Leonard officially took over Moishes Restaurant.

The family man

In addition to his restaurant, Leonard is a father and grandfather (although he really, really doesn’t look like one). He has a 34-year-old son who lives in Ontario, a 28-year-old daughter who is in medical school in the U.S., a 25-year-old daughter who just gave birth to twins, and a 23-year-old son who is studying finance.  He has also been happily married for 13 years, to his lovely wife Stephanie. How do you manage to be a restaurateur and a family man? “It’s hard! (laughs). Joking aside, it’s very difficult indeed. I think Stephanie goes out of her way to be involved in everything related to the restaurant. In fact, everyone in the family makes an effort: if it’s important, you have to make an effort, otherwise you won’t make it.”

The man with his values at heart

“My favourite part is the feeling I get when it’s very busy, but everything is working! (laughs) Sometimes we serve hundreds of people in one night; every little thing counts. You have to organize the work properly, and at the end of the day, everyone depends on everyone else to ensure the night goes smoothly. I like to think I’m kind of the leader or driver of this movement.” There are dishwashers who have been there for more than 35 years, servers for more than 50 years, and young people who have just arrived; it says a lot about the treatment the restaurant has for its staff. “It’s the staff of a restaurant that makes the restaurant, really.”

What he’s most proud of is the legacy Moishes carries, “We’re a kind of institution. This establishment has longevity. We’ve worked hard and built an honest business that tries to give a lot of love and generosity. It’s important to feel the love and human warmth of a place; from the manager to the busboy.”

The open-minded man

“Montreal is going through a recession and young people are finding the environment attractive. I’m all for a free market, but it takes balls, vigilance, and hard work. A few years ago, we had a problem with our image because it was a bit old. We were known by my generation and the one before, but we had difficulty reaching young people; we had to find a solution. We reflected, we renovated, we offered a less expensive menu starting at 9pm, and most importantly, we became active on social media. Our history was important, we’re very connected to Montreal, but we had to revamp how we were operating.” If you go to the restaurant for the late night service, the restaurant is indeed now filled with young people. A great success story for Moishes.

Businessman extraordinaire

Moishes sells more than 25 products – beef ribs, pickles, coleslaw and recently chicken – in all the big box supermarkets. “Wholesale retail brings a lot of opportunity for us. It’s taking up a very significant portion of our market to date. I have a lot of pride and attachment in the fact that I wanted, in some way, to make my dad proud of me, and I’d like to think that he, who went out on his own and from nothing, would be happy to see his name in all the grocery stores.” Indeed! Bravo.

Given all of this, it’s not hard to see why the restaurant is doing so well, even after more than 80 years in business.

Keep up the amazing work, Leonard, and long live Moishes!

From the magazine