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Gone, but not forgotten: Iconic restaurants live on in the memories of Winnipeggers

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Winnipeggers shared a number of their favourite restaurants that have since closed down, but will live forever in their memories.

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After serving between 60,000 and 70,000 chicken fingers in her final weeks of operation, long-time Mitzi’s Owner Shirley Eng can finally rest after 46 years.

“The first day, at least I can sleep in and I feel great, and it simply is a relief,” Eng said, as she closed her doors in mid-April.

Now Mitzi’s joins 150 years of history, as the latest Winnipeg restaurant to come and go.

From the Tiki stylings of The Beachcomber, to the Shanghai Restaurant in Chinatown, the preservation of Manitoba restaurants is a passion for University of Winnipeg adjunct professor Kimberley Moore. 

Here are just ten of the restaurant histories uncovered. For a full list, see below. 

(Photos: Province of Manitoba/YouTube, Ann Friesen/open table.ca, Archives of Manitoba, John Kehler/Facebook, City of Winnipeg Archives, Supplied/John Dobbin, Beachcomber/mytiki.life, Manitoba Historical Society, CTV News Winnipeg. Music: Ambient restaurant sound/Sound Diary/Free Sound Effects/YouTube)

Moore and her University of Winnipeg History professor colleague Janis Thiessen co-wrote 'Mmm... Manitoba The Stories Behind the Foods We Eat,' a project that compiled over five years of research, interviews and podcast creation with Manitoba restaurateurs.

“We decided to approach this project as an oral history project where we could learn from business owners, we could learn from patrons, we could learn from people who cook and eat in their own kitchens,” Moore said, adding the pair started the research for the book in 2018. 

She said most restaurants do not exist in archives but in the memories of the people who worked and ate there.

“With restaurant records in particular, it's really not a lot of them are preserved,” Moore said, adding memorabilia such as menus end up in personal collections.

Defunct restaurants post still the most visited

Blogger John Dobbin said his post on defunct Winnipeg restaurants is still his most popular after a decade of writing.

"If I put up a story about a certain restaurant, often they'll be about six or seven people will say, I work there, I used to go there,” Dobbin said.

He is not a historian but said restaurants are a part of collective memory here.

"If people have any types of memories of Winnipeg, it sometimes isn't necessarily the city parks or their old school,” he said, “It's probably related to food and probably related to the fact that they had this experience in a restaurant.”

He collects all of his own photos for the blog as well because restaurant history is not well-documented.

“There are just so many times that a restaurant has opened and closed that there are no pictures at all,” he said.

Moore still enjoys Fat Boy burgers from Gimli’s The Country Boy restaurant which still exists in the town. She said customers identify certain tastes with individual neighbourhoods.

“I think as a city we acknowledge the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nature of the North End as a starting place for people, especially like new Manitobans,” Moore said.

For Dobbin, a phone at the dining table sparks memories.

“The King’s Restaurant on Pembina Highway,” Dobbin said, “The King's used to have telephones at the booths and you used to put your order in via the telephone to the kitchen. And then they would bring out your meal.”

A phone at the table at the King's Host restaurant allowed patrons to phone their order directly into the kitchen. (Supplied/John Dobbin)

What Dobbin and Moore agree on is that restaurants are more than just bricks and mortar.

“It's one of the things that might have given people special memories of their neighbourhoods, events that they attended there, where there would be a graduation memorial service, Christmas parties,” Dobbin said, “These are the type of things that people will remember.”

“I think the sense of community we have in a smaller city like this that, you know, kind of emerges out of these restaurants might have something to do with that,” Moore said, “Food is the doorway into something bigger and more social. So we might go to Mitzi’s for chicken fingers at first, but we keep going there because there is a sense of hopefulness.”

 From left to right: Irene Wallin, Ali Collins, Shirley Eng, Rui Li and David Eng celebrated the final day of Mitzi’s operation as a family. After 46 years of serving thousands of chicken fingers, Eng can finally enjoy retirement. (Supplied/Ali Collins)   

Eng echoed that saying in her final weeks, customers came from all over North America, and on her last day, they sold more than 3,000 fingers.

“You know, Winnipeg is not a small town, but, you know, for our restaurant it’s simply we’re in a small town,” Eng said. “Everybody knows everybody and it seems like they come here, they come home. So it makes a difference.”

A list of defunct Winnipeg restaurants over the years

Alycia’s

Famous for The North End special, Alycia’s - then known as Alice’s-opened first in 1971 and closed in 2018. The Ukrainian eatery opened in the old Royal Albert Arms Hotel in 2018 but closed again a short time later.

Amici/Bombolini

The sibling restaurants that served Italian fare on Broadway opened in 1986, and were among the most popular restaurants in Canada at one point. They closed their doors in 2017 due to struggling business.

The Beachcomber

Tiki-style restaurants were once all the rage and The Beachcomber boasted dozens of different styles of swizzle sticks, drinks in a pineapple and seriously hip décor. The then-chain restaurant opened in the 1960s at the now-demolished Carlton Motor Hotel. The building was taken down for the RBC Convention Centre expansion project in 2014.

The Blue Note

A music mecca known for cinnamon coffee, great live music and a crowd that stayed up all night, The Blue Note Café on Main Street was the place to be when the bars closed. The stage launched the careers of the Crash Test Dummies and hosted out-of-town musicians passing through like Neil Young in 1987 where he performed with The Squires, his former Winnipeg bandmates.

Boon Burger

Billed as Winnipeg’s first all-vegan burger cafe, in 2010, Boon Burger served plant-based patties and fries from its Sherbrook Street location, and was featured on “You Gotta Eat Here!” The restaurant closed in 2020, citing several challenges, including rising food costs, huge demand for food delivery, and the growth in vegan options in Winnipeg.

Branigan's

One of the original tenants in the newly-opened Forks Market, Branigan's was a part of a group of restaurants owned by George Tsouras. In 2005, the restaurant name was changed to The Beachcomber.

Caesar’s Palace

There were two locations in Winnipeg- one at Polo Park and one at Garden City Mall. Busts of the last ruler of the Rome’s Republican era adorned the walls of this restaurant.

Café Chopin

This European-style café was on the vanguard of restaurants and shops in the now-hip Exchange District. Opened in the 1980s, it sat at the corner of McDermot Avenue and Arthur Street, and the décor featured the famous Polish composer Frédéric Chopin alongside other piano-themed artwork.

Champ's Chicken

Also known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Champs started locally in 1957/58 with a drive-in Winnipeg’s North End. For two decades, Champ's was the chicken champion in Winnipeg.

Country Kitchen

An early chain restaurant that was started in Cincinnati in 1939 selling homegrown food like fries, flapjacks and the famous “Country Boy” burger. Several franchises opened in Winnipeg and the last one closed due to heavy construction on the on Queen Elizabeth Bridge Way then, the Norwood Bridge, from 1997 -1999.

Dubrovnik Restaurant

The upscale restaurant in a home built in 1902 began serving customers in 1976. The restaurant closed in 2012 and the building on Assiniboine Avenue was demolished a year later.

Dutch Maid

Queen of the excess ice cream challenge, Dutch Maid on Osborne offered the Idiot’s Delight, The Moron’s Ecstasy and The Zoo Challenge, which consisted of 25 scoops of ice cream. The prize? If you finished one, you got another one for free.

Emma G’s Eatery

Named after famous revolutionary and activist Emma Goldman, this late-night bohemian hang-out first set up on Cumberland Avenue and Hargrave Street in 1989 and closed in 1991. Emma’s had faux-leather couches, poetry readings and live music. Thursday nights were live music improvs where players were invited to bring their own instrument.

The Garden Creperie

A fern-filled and sun-soaked eatery, the 80s-era crepe restaurant on York Avenue was the height of sophistication. They cooked up an unforgettable seafood crepe and once occupied the space that became the East India Co Pub and Eatery in 1993.

Happy Vineyard

The German-themed restaurant had a huge barrel spiked onto the roof of their Ellice-avenue location. Anita and Sonny Seltzer created a European-type vibe where a musician would play the accordion and sing to diners as he walked from table to table. It is now the site of the Winnipeg Central Mosque.

Harman’s Lunch Counter

The lunch counter was inside the Harman’s Pharmacy at the corner of Portage Avenue and Sherbrook Street. The original building was built in 1904 and operated as a pharmacy in 1932. The lunch counter boasted a vintage Campbell’s Soup Warmer display that would be worth a mint today.

Heaven and Art Book Café

Heaven Art and Books Café was established as a hub for the Winnipeg arts and literature community in 1994. It ran for 6 years at 659 Corydon Avenue. Tim Brandt founded the membership-run centre, sold books, held musical and dance performances and exhibited local art.

Kelekis

A family-owned institution on Main Street since 1932, Kelekis was famous for hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries served in little, brown melamine bowls. This restaurant closed its doors in 2013.

King’s Food Host

A Canadian expansion of a Midwestern US chain, Manitoba was the only Canadian location of the family restaurant famous for its Cheese Frenchee Sandwiches. The restaurant also allowed you to phone in your order from the table, which appealed to children. The restaurant closed in 1974, as the company struggled in the United States, due to McDonald’s and other restaurants targeting families.

Mr. Greenjeans

Winnipeg’s Eaton Place opened on October 11, 1979, and Mr. Greenjeans was one of the restaurant offerings of the new downtown mall. One memorable dish was a top hat sundae full of ice cream, brownies and jelly beans big enough for a crowd.

Mr. Steak

One of the earliest chain steakhouses, Mr. Steak set up in Winnipeg in the 1970s. Many of the restaurants closed in the 1980s, with the final restaurant in Michigan closing in 2009.

Moscovitz and Moscowitz

The original restaurant at Mayfair and Main boasted excellent borscht and Jewish cuisine until it made way for a Schmeckers restaurant in 1980.

Nibbler’s Nosh

Once a corner stone of the developing Corydon Avenue restaurant scene, Nibbler’s Nosh was known for its Jewish cuisine like knishes and other deli faves. Owner Ernie Walter led the signing of a petition in 1995 along with 60 other restaurants calling for a ban on a local restaurant reviewer saying a bad review costs them money.

Original Pancake House

In 1958, the Original Pancake House opened along Pembina Highway in Winnipeg and operated for 63 years until 2021.

Paddlewheel Restaurant

A popular space in downtown Winnipeg that opened in 1954, the Paddlewheel Restaurant in the Downtown Bay location was known for its riverboat theme, its hot lunches and the fact it initially separated male and female customers in its restaurant. The restaurant was also popular with children, hosting breakfasts with Santa Claus and theatre productions. The restaurant closed its doors in 2013 amid the decline of the Bay downtown. However, the restaurant could see new life, as the Southern Chiefs Organization has listed a revitalized Paddlewheel as part of its vision for its redevelopment of the Downtown Bay location.

The Paddock

Catering to horse racing fans back when Polo Park was a track not a mall, The Paddock opened in 1952. The building was torn down in 1988 and the land is now home to Olive Garden, Red Lobster and A&W.

Papa George’s

A literal cornerstone in Osborne Village, Papa George’s opened in 1975 and quickly became famous for its pizza and its availability of food well-into the late-night hours. They closed in 2012. The space where Papa George’s stood is now home to a Leopold’s Tavern.

Ponderosa

The American steakhouse chain opened several locations in Winnipeg, including on Portage Avenue, Pembina Highway, Leila Avenue and Regent Avenue. Ponderosa largely left the Canadian market in the 1980s, with many of its locations being replaced by Red Lobster. Its final restaurants in the Maritimes closed in 2010.

Pure Lard

Winnipeg restaurateur Brad Linden who first operated the burrito/pad Thai eatery out of his apartment in the 1990s, moved the late-night spot to the Bate Building in Winnipeg’s Exchange District. The California-based alt-band Green Day soon scooped up Linden and he became their touring chef, providing meals throughout Europe and North America.

The River Mandarin

‘Harvest in the Snow’ was a signature dish of this Chinese restaurant on River Avenue in Osborne Village. They closed in 2009.

Segovia

A dark, candlelit space that served tapas food and an extensive wine list, Segovia opened in 2009 on Stradbrook Avenue and closed in 2020 after temporarily closing its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many small businesses shuttered across the country at this time.

Shanghai Chop Suey

The Chinese cuisine spot first opened on King Street in 1935, and later moved to the Coronation Block in 1941. The long-time staple in Chinatown closed in 2010, and the building was demolished in 2012.

Shakey’s Pizza

The first ever pizza chain restaurant in the United States, Shakey’s first ever restaurant outside of the U.S. was opened in Winnipeg in 1968. The company is also a popular presence in The Philippines.

Tubby’s Pizza

A Crescentwood staple since 1965, Tubby’s had the market cornered on pizza and famous rock stars. It had a close proximity to Kelvin High School which made it a draw for the younger crowd until 2010.

Wagon Wheel

Located on Hargrave Street, the Wagon Wheel opened in 1951 and became famous for its sandwiches, especially its clubhouse sandwich. The restaurant closed its doors in 2012.

The Chocolate Shop

Located at 268 Portage Avenue, the restaurant initially started as a candy shop and confectionery. The Chocolate Shop, which closed its doors in 2011, also held tarot readings.

The Star Grille

Opened in 1996 across from the Foot Bridge to Assiniboine Park, the restaurant served brunch, lunch and dinner until abruptly closing in 2018. It has since been replaced by K&S Island Grill, a Jamaican restaurant.

Cafe Dario

The West End staple on Erin Street was known for its take on Latin cuisine. The restaurant closed during the pandemic, and a new restaurant, Mae Sunee Thai Cuisine, has since opened in its place.

The Windmill Restaurant

Located on Selkirk Avenue, the restaurant opened in 1970 and served the North End until it closed in 2017 following the death of owner Gus Damianakos the year before. The restaurant was also used for movies, being spotted in “Shall We Dance” and “Goon.”

Haynes Chicken Shack

Zena Haynes and her sister Alva Mayes opened a restaurant focused on Southern cuisine such as fried chicken, creole shrimp and barbecued spare ribs in 1952. The restaurant on Lulu Street closed its doors in 1996.

Grapes

One of the most dominant restaurant chains out of Winnipeg, Grapes also boasted locations in Calgary and Vancouver. The final Winnipeg restaurant closed in 2010.

Spuntino

Grosvenor Avenue & Stafford Street location popular in the community for its Italian fare. The restaurant closed after 17 years in business in 2012.

Gasthaus Gutenberger

The German-themed buffet restaurant had an old-world feel with dark wood panelling, chandeliers and captain’s chairs. It operated from 1995 to 2016

The Round Table

Housed in a Tudor-style building on Pembina Hwy, the Round Table opened in 1973 and ended its run in 2016.

Mother Tucker’s

A former Masonic temple at 335 Donald Street was converted into this restaurant in 1974, which operated for about 25 years. It is said to be haunted with employees and patrons reporting the lights would go on and off randomly.

d’8 Schtove

Hearty Mennonite restaurant whose name is a play on the Low German word for “The Eating Room”.

Paladin Restaurant

The St. Boniface staple burned down in 2011 and never re-opened.

Jim’s Fish and Chips and Deli

Owner Jim Michael spent 30 years as the ‘Jim’ in this Portage Ave. restaurant.

Rickshaw Restaurant

The eatery at Portage Avenue and Arlington Street served up Canadian and Chinese cuisine since the 1960s.

If you would like to add to our master list, send the restaurant name and any other information you have to joseph.bernacki@bellmedia.ca. 

-With files from CTV's Charles Lefebvre and Devon McKendrick.

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