For Montreal foodies, it’s hard to remember a time before David McMillan. With the launch of Joe Beef in 2005, he and his partners were almost responsible for the resurgence of Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood. The former enfant terrible of the local food scene has since settled into celebrity status across North America, and followed up Joe Beef with Le Vin Papillon and Liverpool House, also in Little Burgundy.
David’s passions for environmental sustainability and locally sourced products naturally led him to Opus. And, since he hadn’t cycled for 10 years, an Opus Case+ E-bike was the perfect entrée back into a more sane and fun way to get to work.
L’anglais! There was lots of name calling and kidding in the kitchens I worked for.
How did you start in the restaurant business?
Well, I started off in fruit and vegetable stores and ended up in restaurants. Le Caveau, a French restaurant founded in the early 1900s, in downtown Montreal — that’s where it all started for me. I prepared Les petits déjeuner for politicians like Trudeau, Bourassa and Jacques Parizeau.
Why the St-Henri neighbourhood to open up shop?
Not St. Henri…Little Burgundy! But seriously, I didn’t believe you could only make money working for someone else’s restaurant. I believed in opening a chef-owned, 30-table restaurant, so that’s what we did.
Canaries in a coalmine…I guess
Is there a common philosophy behind the Joe Beef brand and your other restaurants?
Be the best at what you do. If you’re going to sweep the floor, be the best at that. If you’re going to make your bed, do that right. It’s a form of indoctrination that leads to success. I don’t like luxury goods, I like quality goods. I don’t ever want silverware on our tables. That’s not where I come from. I want things to be delicious.
And for me, an Opus Electric bike is delicious!
Favourite place to be when not working?
The cottage. It’s where I can take the kids fishing, where I can cook for them, swim…whatever. Then pick up a couple of old VHS westerns, sit and watch them without distractions. Not be a victim of consumerism.
In our first discussions it was pretty clear you had an interest in electric bikes. Can you tell us where that comes from?
Yeah, I had done my research! One of my clients had given me a shitty E-bike a few years back and I had a bad experience. So I started looking for better quality one — one that didn’t smell like electricity when I charged it! Commuting is outside my comfort zone, so E-bikes seemed like a good alternative.
Before sitting on the saddle of an Opus Case+, how long had it been since you’d ridden a bike?
Ten years. I was so consumed by work I stopped doing stuff! Biking, skiing, going to movies or even hockey games, because I was always in the kitchen.
Did instinct kick in? Or did it take a while to get used to?
I was putting it on ‘sport’ mode 100% of the time when I first got the bike. Now I like a little workout from my rides. Based on what I’m doing, I adjust the pedal assist mode. If there’s a lot of wind, heat, showers…those are all factors that affect the way I calibrate the power stored in the battery.
Describe the moments of joy you get when you’re out riding.
Examining road kill…Smelling the air…Tasting the air….Feeling the temperature! Stopping when and where I want. The other day I discovered a sandwich spot in St-Anne-de-Bellevue that I’d been passing for years in my car. Discovered they make a wicked chicken parmesan panini.
Are you at a point where you consider cycling part of your life?
Yeah, for sure! Every week when I plan my agenda, if I can’t bike to work because I need the car, I’m bummed. Success is going to work on my bike, because I know it’s going to be enjoyable.
When out on the town or commuting, do you get interesting reactions?
It’s cool because they think the Pendix System is a water bottle. Only the guys I pass on the cycling path dressed in spandex are curious to know.
We’re hearing a lot more about sustainability. How does the electric bike fit into all that?
I don’t like the image of success when it’s measured in buying a big house with an in-ground pool and a Mercedes. Riding a bike lets me appreciate moments that I had lost sight of for a long time.