MONTREAL — Kevin Beaudry says there has never been a better time to be operating a restaurant in Montreal.
The manager of La Cage sports bar and restaurant at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, said he knew customers would return when the government last month allowed restaurants to reopen from COVID-19 closures.
But business at the sports bar, which has become a hub for fans during the Stanley Cup playoffs, has been 10 times what he expected — thanks to the success of the Canadiens, he said Wednesday.
"We were just excited to have our regular guests back and have people in seats and getting our staff, hiring them back and now we've had to bring people out of retirement to come and help us out because we're overwhelmed with business because of the Habs," he said.
The hockey team is now one win away from the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1993.
At La Cage, customers are being told to show up before 3 p.m. if they want to get a table to watch Thursday's game — five hours before the puck drops.
"The Canadiens have a worldwide history and they have many followers, not just here, all across Canada and we've become pretty much Canada central right here," Beaudry said. "I think everybody kind of wants to touch the magic of what's going on."
Stuart Ashton, the general manager and co-owner of McLean's Pub, a few blocks north of the arena, said he thinks the success of the Canadiens has helped encourage people who might have been wary of going out.
"As a Canadiens fan, it's been exciting. It's been so exciting, I can't even put it into words, I love it," he said in an interview Wednesday.
Ashton said his business has recovered quickly from losses suffered during the COVID-19 lockdowns because of the Habs.
"With the Canadiens, it's gone from zero to 100, it's amazing," he said.
The pub is not taking reservations because it doesn't want to hold empty tables with a lineup out the door, he said.
Ashton said he expected patrons to start lining up at 4 p.m. on Thursday, which is also Quebec's Fête nationale holiday. And while he assumes business will be strong for game day, he said he worries celebrations may get out of control.
Santana Enrique, manager of Sports Crescent, a sporting goods store on Ste-Catherine Street in downtown Montreal, said if the Canadiens win on Fête nationale, it will be like a "two-for-one" present for Montrealers.
"With what the Canadiens are doing, we forget completely about the pandemic, about the lockdown, the curfew, we forget completely, we are living another life," he said as he folded t-shirts with the name of one of the Canadiens newest stars, Nick Suzuki, on the back.
With many young players coming to prominence during the playoffs, Enrique said fans are buying shirts bearing those new names.
Still, he said, items of clothing with the name and number of veteran goaltender Carey Price remain the bestsellers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press