A few articles have popped up in my reading list in the past couple of months that discuss and somewhat investigate the roots of Swiss Chalet and its barbecue tradition. These include a Wall Street Journal article that looked into the origins of barbecue in Montreal and Swiss Chalet. An article in blogTO reviewed the origins of Swiss Chalet in Toronto. I also found an older National Post article on the subject. All articles are lacking some relevant information that should prove helpful to these barbecue sleuths.

The origins of the Swiss Chalet chain of restaurants trace back to Maurice Mauran and his first Toronto restaurant established in 1954 according to the Prezi article. The Swiss Chalet menu traces back further to an original Chalet Bar-B-Q restaurant in Montreal, alternatively listed as formed in 1944 and 1948. (I lean towards the 1944 date.) Credit is generally given to Mauran for the concept of barbecued chicken. Passing mention is made of a partner he had in establishing the Chalet Bar-B-Q business. That partner was my uncle, Joseph (Joe) Bossart. Like Mauran he was a Swiss immigrant landing in Montreal in the 1930s. He had trained and apprenticed as a cook in Switzerland.

I was told as a child that Mauran and my uncle had some sort of falling out that resulted in the Chalet partnership being dissolved. Mauran seems to have continued operating the Chalet Bar-B-Q restaurant while my uncle started his own restaurant, Chalet Lucerne, on Ste. Catherine Street in Montreal, close to Guy Street. I don’t have a confirmed date for the formation of the Chalet Lucerne, but it was probably 1948. He ran that business very successfully until 1982 when he passed away and the restaurant and building were sold by his estate. He had no children. His Chalet Lucerne was the go-to location for a barbecued chicken meal, especially after a Montreal Canadiens game at the Forum. I remember visiting him and being introduced to staff who had been working there for decades. I also remember the menu, especially the Swiss roll which he had catered in.

Whether Maurice Mauran was the idea person behind the barbecued chicken, the Swiss Roll, the dipping gravy, the Cole slaw, the finger bowls with  a lemon slice, or it was my uncle is not clear. My uncle’s Chalet Lucerne restaurant offered basically the same chicken menu that most people now recognize as Swiss Chalet. My uncle however served only a charcoal barbecued chicken menu; ribs and other entrees were not on the menu. For the almost 45 years the Chalet Lucerne was in business it did not serve any alcohol. (Except for the back office where my uncle entertained the town’s movers and shakers.)

There is little question that Mauran was a remarkable entrepreneur. My uncle in contrast was a restauranter, networker, and bon vivant. Active in the Masonic Lodge he was also a member of the Royal Order of Jesters. He basically knew anyone and everyone who was a power broker in Montreal in the 50s and 60s.

That of course is not the end of the story. My father, Leo Bossart, immigrated to Canada and joined my uncle in 1948 after having spent the war years serving in the Swiss Army. After a couple of years my father started his own restaurant in Montreal, the Côte St. Luc Bar-B-Q. It had the same menu as the Chalet Lucerne, except the Swiss Roll, and presumably the Chalet Bar-B-Q. There was no maple flavoured chicken as mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article. My father owned that business from about 1950 to 1961. The business at the time had a very small footprint in terms of the kitchen and seating area. Much of his business was based on delivery with a couple of cars and drivers on staff.

In 1957 my father moved the family to just outside Ottawa and started a second business, the Lucerne Chicken Bar-B-Q at 303 Bank Street in Ottawa. He sold the Montreal business in about 1961 to focus on the Ottawa restaurant. My father found the Ottawa market demanded a more diverse menu than barbecued chicken and his menu included the Montreal style barbecue chicken offerings along with flame grilled steaks and a businessman’s special for lunch. My parents operated the Lucerne Chicken Bar-B-Q until 1974 when they retired.

I was only a child and teenager during the time my father had his two restaurants, and some operational memories still linger.

My father and uncle used hardwood charcoal for the barbecue. There were no additives or flavourings. Preparing the chicken involved placing a single spoon of salt inside the bird, tying it up, putting it on a spit and then loading the spits into the ovens. The recipes for the coleslaw and the gravy were the same for my uncle’s and father’s restaurants. Both seemingly the same recipe as the Swiss Chalet offered, at least though the 70s or 80s after which Swiss Chalet made a change in their gravy. I still remember operating the tumbler and slicer in the basement of the Ottawa business used to cut the French fried daily.

Final Thoughts

The chicken portions my father and uncle served were perhaps one third to one half larger than what Swiss Chalet now serves. Costco barbecued chicken is the closest I can come to capturing the chicken experience of my childhood in terms of taste and portion size. Costco may not use hardwood charcoal, but I would be hard pressed to find a difference, perhaps because I never ate the barbecued skin.

For those folks who like to keep track of the origins of barbecued chicken in Montreal the missing partner at the Chalet Bar-B-Q is my uncle Joseph Bossart. I would not be surprised if it was his experience and training in a Swiss kitchen that was responsible for what are now the nationally famous Swiss Chalet barbecue chicken recipes, gravy, and menu. But my uncle is long gone and there are no awards or prizes at stake. The Swiss Chalet origin story needs to be amended to acknowledge the contributions of a second person, not just a ‘businessman’, but my Uncle Joe, to the now classic barbecued chicken menu.

Cleaver from the Lucerne Chicken Bar-B-Q, possibly also the Cote Ste Luc Bar-B-Q

Articles with Links

Wall Street Journal



National Post

Chalet Bar-B-Q