Moe’s diner finds a new home in the CJ basement
When I was a kid, I spent most of my time in the basement of a 60s-style diner behind the Old Forum. My days consisted of playing “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls on the jukeboxes on repeat, riding around the block in one of the regular customer’s cabs, and mixing coffee, ketchup, pancake mix—anything I could get my hands on—together in a giant bowl. I called it a potion and begged my dad’s staff to have a taste.
The Corner Snack Bar—dubbed Moe’s—was opened by a man named Moe Sweigman in 1958. It was purchased by my grandparents, Vasiliki and Petros Thomas, 20 years later. For decades, the 24-hour greasy spoon served as an after-game pitstop for the Habs, whose home arena was located just across the street before they moved to the Bell Centre in 1996.
The Thomas’s eldest son, Eddy, dropped out of school at 15 to work at the diner full time. Eventually, a woman from Ontario named Lee was hired as a waitress. After a few years of bickering, the two fell in love and went on to have two children: my brother and me.
My grandparents passed the diner down to my dad in the 90s, and it’s where my parents worked for the better half of my life. It was everything to me; everything to us. Customers at Moe’s were as intrinsically tied to us as our family members. Even now, after all these years, they remain threaded into my memory like quirky, lovable characters from a Disney film.
I cried when employees quit. I cried when employees were fired (actually, the first time my parents told me they fired someone, I thought they meant they set him on fire). My mom used to say that when customers I didn’t like tried to talk to me, I’d just swivel around on my stool to face the opposite direction. I also apparently used to command customers to “talk” if they wore CHOM 97.7 apparel, in an attempt to recognize their voices, since the station served as the soundtrack to Moe’s until aux cords became a thing.
The diner meant so much to so many people. For some, it was a 3 a.m. poutine pitstop after a drunken night on the town. For others, it was where they brought a first date whose heart they would go on to claim forever; a place where you could bump into actors who were in town to shoot a movie; even a refuge during the Ice Storm of 1998 and the Dawson College shooting in 2006. For me, it was a go-to hangout, bottomless fries, Yiayia’s unrivaled tzatziki, and my first (and longest) full-time job. But above all, it was home.
When times got tough and we had to close in December 2015, it felt like I was losing part of my soul. My mom passed away six years prior to that, so it also felt like I was losing yet another part of her. A chapter of my life closed forever, and it still feels like I’m being stabbed in the heart when I drive by its former location to find a trendy café in its place.
Nowadays, Moe’s crosses my mind every so often, like when I come across an old photograph I haven’t seen in a while. But for the most part, it’s been compartmentalized into a part of my brain labelled “this hurts too much to think about.”
Since the diner’s closing, I’ve taken on a few different jobs, but most of my time has been devoted to the journalism degree I’m pursuing at Concordia. As a journalism student, I spend a lot of time in the CJ building on the Loyola campus. Last fall, as I was walking down the hallway that leads to the tunnel connecting CJ to the SP building, I looked up and stopped dead in my tracks. Hanging there on the wall was a 7UP sign that read “CASSE-CROUTE DU COIN RESTAURANT.” It took a second, but then it hit me: I know this sign. It used to hang above the window outside my diner.
It’s hard to put how I felt in that moment into words, but for the most part I was overcome with a distinct feeling of warmth that I’ve never experienced before. It might be comparable to bumping into an old friend you haven’t seen in years, whose whereabouts you were entirely unaware of up until your paths happened to cross again. A twist of fate.
Of all the places on earth this sign could have ended up, it so happened to be in a building where I spend most of my days. Moe’s lives on forever in the hearts of everyone who frequented it over the years, but also in the basement of Concordia’s CJ building. Somehow, three years later, it made its way back to me.