This place had been a bit of an enigma to me until recently. Before last week, I had only heard of the “Korean butcher” through friends. At the time, my information was limited and I had heard that he was not actually Korean, but specialized in Korean cuts of meat and serves the public in the Korean language. This required clarification – certainly there was a story there and I intended to find out what it was. Who was this famous slicer of L.A. kalbi, samgyeopsal and bulgogi?
It turns out that Bertrand Makowka (aka “the Korean butcher”) is a part of a long-standing family-run butcher shop in Verdun named Viandal. In recent years, this old fashioned charcuterie has become the place for choice Korean cuts of meat and is well known among the Korean community in Montreal. One of my friends even drives to Montreal once a month, stocks her car full of meat and drives it back to Ottawa to supply her two restaurants.
The family’s background is Polish, yet the Makowkas moved to France during World War II and Bertrand spent a portion of his youth in France before his family immigrated to Quebec. His father opened Viandal in 1977. It has been a Verdun establishment ever since.
About nine years ago, things began to change for the shop. The pastor of a Korean Church down the street came in asking for a particular cut of meat. In typical fashion of a family-run business, the Makowkas obliged. The kalbi was good and soon others began to frequent the shop for their Korean-style cuts of meat.
When asked about why he thinks his shop has succeeded among the Korean community, Makowka replies that they recognized the quality and freshness of their meats and that is what people want. So they keep coming back. Today, about 20% of Viandal’s business clientele is Korean.
When I asked him about his language skills, Bertrand says he has never taken any language classes. While I was in the shop, I heard him serve a client in Korean, and was duly impressed: He mentioned to the client that he was waiting for stock to arrive and it would arrive in a couple of days.
“The people of the Korean community have been extremely kind,” Makowka says. “It was all very gradual. It was with the clientele, they taught me to speak Korean. At first it was complicated, it sounded like gibberish to me, but slowly we learned the basics. My brother and I and a few of our employees now have the basics of the language.”
So next time you are in Montreal, looking for the best bulgogi or kalbi around, go to Viandal, where the Makowkas and their staff will be happy to serve you in the language of your choice: Polish, French, English or Korean.
Viandal is open 6 days a week and is located at: 550 de L’Eglise, Verdun, Quebec / 514-766-9906