Bernard et Fils Traiteur: Catering to a sophisticated clientele
Read time: 4 minutes
It started as a small general store operated by Bernard Saurette Jr.’s great grandfather, who made deliveries by horse and cart. More than 100 years down the road, the business has evolved into one of Montreal’s trendiest and most innovative caterers. Each of the four successive generations of Saurettes who’ve taken the helm has brought something new to the table. Fifty years after it opened, the general store became a producer of salt-cured meats, then a butcher shop. After buying the business from his father in 1997, Bernard Saurette Jr., 48, reinvented it yet again, this time as a high-end caterer. Today, Bernard et Fils Traiteur has a workforce of 40 and serves some 650 events per year. Saurette oversees the administrative side of things while his sister, Lily, manages meal creation and production. The secrets to a successful family business? Saurette has a ready answer: Hard work, a clear vision and common goals.
Here’s what Saurette has to say on:
…the beginnings of his business
I began working in my father’s butcher shop when I was 12. On weekends, I helped wash the dishes. I spent a lot of time with an old butcher, one of my father’s employees. I was about 15 when my father noticed my interest. He quickly “promoted” me from dishwasher to butcher. I knew the job inside out. Walking around behind the counter with a hip of beef slung over my shoulder—I loved that stuff.
I bought the business from my father in 1997. My sister has been on board right from day one as well. She’s our executive chef and works with four other chefs.
We began by preparing small buffets. And that’s how the butcher shop closed its doors for good to make way for Bernard et Fils Traiteur (catering).
Sales quickly increased and our workforce expanded accordingly. We were soon short on space. We’d reached our limit but didn’t want to rent space. To me, owning your own space is the only way to go. It’s a big plus when you’re seeking financing. In 2006, with the support of BDC, we bought our current headquarters.
We can do up to 5,000 meals per day during peak periods. We’ve catered for the Formula 1 Grand Prix, Pink Floyd and U2 concerts, and all the big festivals in town, including the Jazz Festival, Just for Laughs and Montreal High Lights.
A kitchen is like a military operation. We have four maître d’s who work with us for big events. They’re like army generals. They show up and take charge, setting up the rooms and overseeing the service.
We’ve been in numerous competitions, to see how we measure up. We were the first Quebec caterer to be among the four finalists of the Catersource Ace Awards 2012, an international competition held in Las Vegas. It’s a bit like the Oscars of catering.
…on being an entrepreneur
I used to work 100 hours a week and I was going crazy. Today, I average 35 to 40 hours a week at the office, though the phone calls and emails are non-stop. In our field, it’s 24/7. There’s no downtime.
I stay focused on the positive. Instead of laying blame, I prefer to find a solution or ensure the same issue doesn’t arise again. I exchange ideas with other entrepreneurs. These discussions are always rewarding and help me stay on track.
…on the family business
All of our family and friends have worked here at some point or another. Having a strong family has always been a huge advantage; we’ve worked hard, and we’ve always been honest with one another. Family members who work for us are treated like any other employee.
…on the future
A year ago, we launched a new line of healthy products: Collection Pure. These are individual, ready‑to‑eat meals made with natural ingredients that are low in fat and contain no salt or additives. It’s a line that targets consumers who seek a healthy, balanced diet.
We’re always looking for ways to expand our product line to better serve our customers. Keeping our ear to the ground and anticipating our customers’ needs gives us our best chance for success.