By: John Symon – mtltimes.ca
The big, round, orange and eye-catching restaurant on the west side of the Decarie Expressway is hard to miss; Orange Julep is a family-owned fast-food restaurant that has operated there for about 45 years. A kitchen and service counter occupy the first floor, but many people wonder what is inside the rest of this building.
“The main attraction here is our unique Orange Julep drink which remains a family recipe,” explained manager Monique Desmeules. “But many customers also come in for our toasted hot dogs, french fries, and poutine.”
Last Tuesday, many customers were parked in the lot around Orange Julep with their windows rolled down. You have a choice of eating in your car or at one of about 30 green picnic tables outside. And with no indoor dining area or smoking restrictions, smokers can light up while they eat. Customers were generally smiling and apparently enjoying the return to warm weather.
Orange Julep used to also be famous for its waitresses on roller skates. “But we had too many problems with the CSST (workers’ compensation board) that required our waitresses to have helmets and knee pads. We ended the roller skate service in about 2005,” continued Desmeules.
The origin of the restaurant goes back to the 1930s when founder Hermas Gibeau began selling his special orange juice recipe at the Belmont amusement park. Eventually he opened a restaurant on Decarie Blvd around 1944, but this was expropriated during the construction of the Decarie Expressway in the 1960s. The Gibeau family reopened at the present location in 1965. Desmeules, who started working at Orange Julep as a teenager, has seen generations of customers, often from the same families.
“Many of our customers are from Ontario. They come in and buy huge amounts of our orange drink to take home. We also have many customers from Sri Lanka,” said Desmeules.
Loudspeakers inside and outside the restaurant were blaring out “60s on 6” satellite radio when we visited. This New York based radio station really makes listeners think that they are back in the late 1960s. The restaurant exudes a “Happy Days” atmosphere reminiscent of the 1950s or 1960s. Does Orange Julep sell orange drinks or does it sell nostalgia?
Serge Paul of NDG stopped by at least once a year for the past 45 years. “It’s such a great taste on a hot day. The real draw is the OJ drink, but sometimes I buy a hamburger too. And the vintage car shows here on summer evenings are really neat; you can show off your car and chat with other collectors. Some nights it’s all VWs, other nights it’s all Corvettes. Rumour suggests Orange Julep is also a great place to sell vintage cars, especially if you park there all day and leave a telephone number visible on the dash board.
Across Ferrier Street is a 24-hour McDonald’s restaurant, but Orange Julep seems to stand up well to the competition. Interestingly, McDonald’s began in California in 1942—only two years before Orange Julep opened in Montreal. McDonald’s now comprises some 31,000 restaurants worldwide while OJ has stayed with only one restaurant. “We have no plans to expand,” stated Desmeules. She continued that a similar restaurant in Delson, south of Montreal, is not affiliated with Orange Julep on Decarie. Orange Julep is still owned by the Gibeau family and has a workforce of up to 50 employees.
“The first (ground) floor is for the kitchen,” said Desmeules when asked about the upstairs. “The second floor is for the employees’ lockers and for a small office. The third floor is for storage; we go through a lot of disposable cups here. The basement is where the juice is stored and we make that fresh each day. We go through a case of oranges every three minutes when we make the juice.”
Unlike McDonald’s, Orange Julep does not need a big sign to advertize its whereabouts: the eye-catching architecture does that just fine! A stairwell near the washrooms at the back of the restaurant provides a glimpse of the building’s real structure. Looking up through an iron grate, you can see the square cinder block restaurant surrounded by a large, orange fibreglass shell.