Rocky Montana. Tribute to a Montreal Food Institution. 1991-2016.
Ramesh Velauthapillai, owner of Rocky Montana.
The sparse shop is a skeleton of what it used to be.
Ramesh sharing the certificate he received from the NDG food depot, an important local community food centre. They ran a ‘Zero Waste initiative’ for a few years, picking up edible yet ‘unsellable’ produce from grocery stores like Rocky. Ramesh consistently set aside food to donate, helping to offset his food waste.
Rocky always had the cheapest prices, providing affordable produce to the community – despite the rising food prices.
Many of Ramesh’s customers asked to be contacted if he opened another shop – proof of the human connection built into this business.
Ramesh spared the customer 25 cents on his purchase, simply saying ‘next time’, without hesitation.
This sign was made by Ramesh’s upstairs neighbour Lori, the kind woman who had informed me of their closing.
She had read my article on Dad’s Bagel (see here), another family-run NDG store that sadly closed last year, and wondered if I would be interested in writing about Rocky Montana. Of course, I was very grateful for the opportunity! (photo by Lori)
For 25 years, Rocky Montana has been a fixture on Sherbrooke Street West, in Montreal’s N.D.G, but sadly, they are closing their doors this month. Owned and run by Ramesh Velauthapillai aka Ramesh, and his wife, Rocky Montana was a special food shop that supported the local community. Committed to offering the lowest prices possible, Ramesh provided healthy fresh food, including plenty of organic items, to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds in the city. News of Rocky’s shutting hit close to home, as I had frequented the grocery store for many years, having grown up just a few blocks away. I have fond memories of shopping there with my mother, listening to the colourful Sri Lankan music they played, and enjoying the Buddhist art on the walls. After learning that they were closing, I went to visit Ramesh at the store, for the last time, to get the backstory from him directly.
Ramesh explained what was an unfortunate series of events, that ultimately led to the financial collapse of his business, and the tragic loss of his home. They endured huge, expensive, building repairs, costly challenges with contractors, and issues with city – that caused logistical issues in running the business. I also took the opportunity to ask Ramesh about his early days in Montreal, and how he started Rocky Montana. Ramesh generously shared his story, about how he moved to Canada from Sri Lanka in 1986, alone, when he was just 17 years old. His first job was working at a supermarket in the Decarie Square, and after a few years, he decided to open up his own shop. While Ramesh started with nothing, he built up a thriving grocery over time, that lasted over two decades. Now, Ramesh, his wife and their three children, must start fresh. When I asked Ramesh, a soft-spoken man, how he felt about Rocky’s closing, he expressed with sadness, how he would miss his loyal customers. He said his clients were like family, people he had known for many years. Ramesh told me how his regulars were just as emotional about the closing, after seeing the empty shelves, and realizing that Rocky Montana would no longer be part of their lives.
To me, small family-run businesses like Rocky are an important and healthy part of our neighbourhoods, local economy, and community. As urban dwellers, buying our food from a grocer we know personally, brings us one step closer to our food source. Shopping at a fruiterie like Rocky, is a completely different experience from a large sterile supermarket or box store like Costco. These corporate entities can easily absorb the overhead costs that come with owning a business, unlike the little guys like Rocky Montana, who easily sink when facing unforeseen expenditures. Running an independent business in this day and age is challenging in many ways, and too many family-run stores like Rocky struggle to keep up. As a tribute to Rocky’s long run and positive impact, I wanted to dedicate this post to them, in celebration of the wonderful grocery store that so many of us Montrealers loved! Thank you for your hard work Ramesh, and all the people who worked at Rocky Montana over the last 25 years.
If you wish to help support Ramesh and his family at this difficult time, feel free to contribute to the YouCaring crowdfunding page HERE.