The restaurant t-shirt is the new band t-shirt. Two years ago, while Dave Rose was bringing heat to Montreal as the founder and producer of Smoke Show Hot Sauce, an idea came to him that would change the restaurant industry in Montreal.
At the time, Rose was overseeing his own online sales platform, as were other restaurant owners he knew. Rose’s realization that everyone was operating on their own led him to a eureka moment! He began to conceive of a shared online community platform for the Montreal restaurant scene. Rose understood from his ten years’ experience working at Joe Beef that to get merchandise and items from a restaurant, you would have to have a reservation, often highly coveted and difficult to obtain at Montreal’s top restaurants. Recognizing that there was a growing food culture spurred by social media, coupled with an increasing mainstream interest in Montreal’s best restaurants, Rose realized that “the restaurant t-shirt is like the band t-shirt of the 2020s!”
The result was Brunette, a one-stop shop for all things Montreal restaurant-related. Rose collaborated with Brandon Harrar, founder of HRVST, a Montreal-based creative agency. Harrar, now the president of Brunette, built the foundation of the company and spearheaded the development of one consolidated online store for Montreal restaurant apparel and products. With its bold, modern, and fresh aesthetic, Brunette represents the energy of the Montreal food world. Now, two years later, this streamlined platform has proven to be a lifesaver for the Montreal restaurant scene.
The Bull & Bear sat down with Dave Rose to hear more about Brunette and its evolving role. Rose explained that when the pandemic hit in March, Brunette was in a unique place to help restaurants. Forced to close their doors, the site allowed owners to sell their merchandise and reach a wider consumer audience, while also obeying COVID-19 restrictions.
The growing awareness that Brunette was going to be a lifeline for restaurants as the pandemic worsened led Rose and his team to launch the “Pay Now, Eat Later” campaign. Brunette sold virtual gift cards for the brands on their website, and they on-boarded any restaurants who were interested in participating. This enterprise created no revenue for the company, but benefitted restaurants tremendously, as they could immediately use the money from the gift cards sold and know that when they reopened, their customers would be there to support them.
In addition to supporting local restaurants, the campaign garnered a lot of attention for Brunette. It inspired them to continue using their platform to support restaurants impacted by the pandemic. As part of this initiative, they worked with the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund to support restaurant workers in need. Brunette also teamed up with some of their most popular restaurants like trendy brunch spot Arthur’s and wine bar Loïc to sell merchandise, with proceeds going directly to the fund. Together, they raised $40 000 and continue to sell merchandise for this cause to this day. Rose described this initiative as a way to give back to the restaurants who were so supportive in selling their merchandise through the online retailer.
Brunette has an impressive line-up of brands whose t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, totes, and even a limited edition “fish wacker” from the famous Joe Beef make up the bulk of what they sell on the website. Joe Beef is their most famous client, and Rose’s relationship with the restaurant (and its other affiliated restaurants) before founding Brunette allowed for a meaningful collaboration. While Beauty’s, the grand dame of Montreal luncheonettes, might be one of their most established clients, Pizza Toni and Mon Lapin represent some of the newer restaurants in the city. Other favourites include dry pastas and jarred sauces from Stefano, St Viateur Bagel seasoning, and Beef and Steak Spice from Schwartz’s, in addition to the great apparel.
As we are all well aware, Montreal restaurants have been closed for in-person dining since the move into the red zone at the beginning of October. Now with a curfew in effect, Montreal restaurants are struggling more than ever to make ends meet, with many being forced to permanently close. Rose has realized that the Internet and the restaurant industry are not two separate entities, and he sees the future of Brunette playing an integral role in the survival of the Montreal restaurant scene through evermore creative ways. He is looking forward to adding even more restaurants onto the site and continuing to be there as a safety net and an alternative revenue source for restaurants, no matter the situation.
Rose emphasized the importance of supporting local restaurants right now. His top Montreal recommendations are Paul Patates for a hot dog lunch, Les Street Monkeys for a Cambodian dinner, and of course, Loïc for fabulous drinks and snacks. The flavours and fashions that Brunette supplies offer a way to both support the places you love and improve your work-from-home look.