Look out, Second Cup and Presse Cafe: there’s a new cafe on the block. Ten years after its inception, Ghetto Shul, a grass-roots, student-run synagogue in the McGill ghetto, is opening its doors to a wider clientele in the form of a casual cafe. Montrealers, whether they are practising Jews or not, can enjoy a cup of coffee or a healthy meal for an extremely low cost.
Adam Stotland brought the idea of opening a cafe to spiritual leaders Dena and Leibish Hundert, who were initially apprehensive about turning a spiritual, community space into a commercial enterprise. Rather than seeking to corporatize the Ghetto Shul, Stotland instead sought to extend the space’s hours, which was previously open for only a few days a week. With the cafe, Ghetto Shul is now open throughout the week, offering a space for students and members of the community to socialize, relax, or study – the cafe comes fully equipped with free wi-fi. As Stotland describes, “We want our cafe to be a cheap and relaxed alternative to other cafes in the neighbourhood. Above all, it is a space to hang out, recalling the beatnik coffeehouses of the past.”
The atmosphere is certainly warm for a space used previously for concerts. As a large, open room, the Ghetto Shul Cafe feels and looks different from most cafes. Littered with tables, couches, and even a piano, the space feels more like a university residence’s common room than a “traditional,” formal cafe. Recreation and leisure seem to be key features of the space, which holds occasional concerts and jam sessions. You can even find a number of board games to play.
Stotland pointed out that the cafe is also environmentally conscious – very little is thrown to waste, and they make avid use of recycling and composting. At such a short walk from campus, Ghetto Shul Cafe is sure to satisfy the hungry and overworked student with only a few dollars to their name.
Along with the usual cafe fare of coffee, tea, and baked goods, Ghetto Shul Cafe offers a fair number of food items that are simple, fresh, and homemade. It should be stated from the start that Ghetto Shul offers only vegetarian and vegan options – you won’t even find milk for your coffee. Nonetheless, the food is damn tasty. Using fresh ingredients, the cafe’s menu changes every day, offering a different soup, salad, or dish each time you visit. And then there are their staples, such as vegan pizza, all day breakfast, and sandwiches. I ordered the dish of the day, which included lentil soup, homemade veggie burger patties, stewed chickpeas, sweet potatoes, and a small salad for only $6. My friend ordered the hummus salad, which came fully loaded with peppers and pickles on a homemade bun, also with soup and salad, also for a mere $6.
The meals were both tasty and satisfying and needless to say I was full well before I could rise to the Beggar’s Banquet $10 spending limit. Next time I should just load up on cookies to go.
Ghetto Shul cafe is located at 3458 Parc. Open from 12 p.m. top 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday.
An earlier version of this article erroneously credited McGill staffer Adam Winer with the quotes. Article amended January 20.