Come and take a step back in time at Wilensky’s

Wilensky’s store front. Dalia Nardolillo/THE CONCORDIAN

A sandwich shop where everything has stayed the same since 1932

Located in Montreal’s Mile End, Wilensky’s has been a local staple since 1932. Famous for its sandwich special, the restaurant was opened by husband and wife Ruth and Moe Wilensky.

I was so enticed to visit this infamous eatery. My boyfriend and I visited Wilensky’s during the first week of January. We went on a quiet Wednesday afternoon and we were able to sit at one of the bar stools at the front counter.

Stepping foot into Wilensky’s is like stepping into a time machine. I got the chance to sit down with Sharon Wilensky, the daughter of Ruth and Moe, and she discussed with me about who came up with the idea of “the special” at Wilensky’s.

“My dad, Moe Wilensky came up with the idea for the special. The restaurant started in 1932 and that’s the date that we go by. My father and uncle couldn’t find work and that’s when they started working with my grandfather,” Wilensky recalled. “My father said ‘We need to find a way to make more money and I think we need to start selling food.’”

Moe Wilensky brought in a small grill that could only cook a few hotdogs at a time, which cost a fortune because of the Great Depression. 

“Salami and bologna, which is what is in the Wilensky’s special, is something that people ate at home. My dad would be eating it for lunch and customers would come in and ask my dad if he could make it for them. They would come in again and again and say, ‘Could you make that special thing you made for me last time?’” Wilensky said.

The Wilensky’s Special. In the background, there is a cherry cola being mixed the old-fashioned way. Dalia Nardolillo/THE CONCORDIAN

That’s how the Wilensky’s special was born. For under five dollars, you can enjoy the special with either swiss or cheddar cheese. The other special thing about Wilensky’s is the rules that they have regarding their special. 

When you order it right off the bat, they serve it with only mustard and you can’t ask them to cut it in half for you. You have to enjoy it as is. 

The rules for the Special at Wilensky’s. Dalia Nardolillo/THE CONCORDIAN

I ordered the special with swiss cheese, and less than five minutes later I took my first bite of the sandwich. The combination of the two meats with the warm swiss cheese was amazing, I could see how these little sandwiches could get addicting. The mustard is a perfect accompaniment because it cuts through all the fat. 

To accompany his sandwich, my boyfriend ordered a cherry coca cola which was made the old-fashioned way by mixing it right on the spot. Before we left, he wanted to leave a tip and it came to our knowledge that they donate all of their tips to charity!

“Working with my dad is one of my favourite memories,” Wilensky said, teary-eyed. “I went to Outremont high school, which is a french adult-ed high school and I would come to work here after school. I would even remember being a child here, while working here I would see children walking along the bar of the counter and it would bring me back.”

Wilensky’s is the perfect place to stop by if you are in the Mile End area even if it’s simply to say hi to one of the original Wilensky’s! 

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