It was a year of new beginnings and notable closures for Winnipeg’s food and drink scene. While masks and government-issued health cards were scrapped for diners, fallout from the pandemic remained a going concern for local restaurateurs in 2022.
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Between rising food costs and labour shortages, it was an expensive and exhausting time to run a kitchen. The cost of food increased by more than 10 per cent over the last calendar year, forcing many restaurants to raise prices and revamp their menus — if you’ve dined out recently, you’ve also noticed the ever-expanding tip prompts. Eating, at home and in public, is pricier than ever.
After a rash of pandemic layoffs in 2020, the hospitality industry is still struggling to regain and retain staff. Most operators interviewed by the Free Press this year complained about labour shortages and difficulty finding skilled staff. To add fuel to the fire, ghosting — a phenomenon that sees new hirees skipping out on shifts — has been hitting small businesses particularly hard in recent months, according to a Canadian Federation of Independent Business report.
Technology will save us — or at least make it easier to order and pay for a meal. QR codes are here to stay, with most local eateries opting to stick with digital menus and some taking the tech a step further. Manitoba-based startup FasTab recently partnered with more than 20 different restaurants to launch a program that enables guests to pay for meals via smartphone without server intervention. Hong Du Kkae, a Korean restaurant on Pembina Highway, also made headlines earlier this year for adding a full-blown robot to its serving staff.
Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press Files
Ricky Wang, the son of Hong Du Kkae owner Dirk Wang sends the robotic server to the proper table, via a touch screen.
The novelty of drinking and dining al fresco hasn’t worn off either. Patios popped up in full force this summer, with the Beer Can expanding into Osborne Village. Mayoral candidate Rick Shone even made sanctioned drinking in public parks a cornerstone of his campaign platform.
Winnipeg chefs and home cooks got more than 15 minutes of fame this year. Chefs Mandel Hitzer and Christa Bruneau-Guenther returned to a second season of Food Network Canada’s Wall of Chefs series, and Jenna Rae Cakes owners Jenna Hutchinson and Ashley Kosowan tried their hand at judging on Wall of Bakers. Filipino bakery Sugar Blooms and Cakes recently took home the $10,000 grand prize on The Big Bake: Holiday special and two locals competed on CBC’s The Great Canadian Baking Show.
There were plenty of delicious gatherings in 2022, with many of the city’s major food and drink events returning this year after a pandemic hiatus.
Both the Winnipeg Whisky Festival and Flatlander’s Beer Festival made their comebacks in June, followed by a new beer festival at Shaw Park, Ballpark Brewfest, and then the Winnipeg Wine Festival in September. Canada’s Great Kitchen Party hosted an in-person gala once again this fall (won by Yujiro Japanese Restaurant owner Edward Lam), and fine-dining pop-up RAW:almond announced its return to The Forks this winter. Women, Wine and Food, hosted by the Women’s Health Centre, is also set to celebrate International Women’s Day in person again next March.
Despite another challenging year for the hospitality industry, there were plenty of people willing to jump into the fray.
From gourmet to novel to casual, pizza had a major moment in 2022. The restaurant group behind the Roost and Oxbow expanded into high-end ’za with the opening of Parcel Pizza on Stradbrook, an entrepreneurial transplant started slinging Instagram-worthy pies at CrusTop on Corydon and a pair of brothers introduced Winnipeggers to a northern delicacy via Thompson Style Pizza on Fort Street. The pizza trend shows no sign of slowing, with the return of Pizza Express to Winnipeg coming in 2023.
JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Parcel Pizza chef Jess Champion-Taylor puts a pie in the oven at the Stradbrook Avenue resto.
The city also gained several new brunch and coffee spots this year. Buvette opened in Osborne Village; OEB Breakfast Co., a national franchise, made its debut at the corner of Portage and Main; Never Better coffee has moved in with Bonnie Day’s Wolseley digs; Thom Bargen launched a third location on Corydon Avenue; Stella’s opened a location on Portage Avenue in St. James; and Rosé Coffee and Wine opened in the Exchange District.
Other new eateries include La Crêperie Ker Briezh on Sherbrook Street, Gather Craft Kitchen and Bar at the Leaf in Assiniboine Park, Hoagie Boyz on Osborne Street and Manoomin Restaurant on Madison Avenue.
RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Head chef Jennifer Ballantyne, left, and general manager Morgan Beaudry serve up Indigenous-inspired fare at the new Manoomin restaurant.
On the drinks side of things came a bricks-and-mortar location for Low Life Barrel House and Next Friend Cider (on Daly Street N.); a taproom for Good Neighbour Brewing Co.. which they share with One Sixteen (on Sherbrook Street, next to Good Neighbour’s almost-finished brewing facility); a second brewery in Brandon (Section 6); a new distillery in Grandview (Grand Vieux Liquor Company); and, joining in on the action right under the wire, a brewery/taproom for Devil May Care Brewing Co. (at 155 Fort St.).
JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
From left: French Blanche, Hazy Pale Ale and Especial Amber Lager are among the brews offered by Good Neighbour Brewing Co.’s taproom.
New contract brewers in the province include Namesake Brewing, which is making its beer at Torque, and FullGeek Brew Lab, which is brewing at Stone Angel Brewing Co.
There were more than a few prominent closures this year — many the result of pandemic-era difficulties.
KUB Bakery, makers of iconic Winnipeg-style rye bread, recently turned off their Erin Street ovens after 99 years in business. Blondie’s Burgers on Main Street closed after serving up extra-large burgers and shakes for 32 years, while a pair of St. Boniface staples closed up shop, with Promenade Cafe and Wine Bar up for sale after more than a decade of fine dining in St. Boniface and Beaujena’s French Table’s owners opting for retirement.
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Ross Einfeld at Winnipeg institution KUB Bakery, which closed its doors on Nov. 16.
The Underground Cafe is closed again after a short-lived eight-month stint in the Royal Albert Arms, while the German Society of Winnipeg saw the Schnitzelhaus shut its doors and Bernhard Wieland Brewing, who was making beer in the basement of the German Society, turn off the taps.
Pandemic controversies spelled the end for other restaurants. Forth Café in the Exchange closed quietly after its owners voiced concerns on social media about public health measures and a similar fate befell the Garden patio on Portage Avenue, which didn’t reopen this summer.
The health-order-defying owners of Tuxedo Family Restaurant, Monstrosity Burger and Chaise Café closed their eateries this year after racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in enforcement fines.
Under new management
When one restaurant closes, another opens. There was a lot of location shuffling this year with the closure of several longtime establishments making way for new concepts and new ownership.
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Co-owners Courtney Molaro, left, and Adam Donnelly of Petit Socco took over Close Co.’s cosy Stafford Street space this year.
Notable swaps: the closure of Close Co. (which was named one of Canada’s best restaurants in 2022) on Stafford and the opening of Petit Socco by former Segovia chef Adam Donnelly; Little Goat Food and Drink on Portage is now the retro-inspired Dreamland Diner; La Belle Baguette on Ness Avenue was replaced by the Butter Tart Lady; Cafe Dario in the West End has become Mae Sunee Thai Cuisine; and nearby, Sleepy Owl Bread closed and reopened several months later with the same name but under the umbrella of Diversity Food Services.
Similar switcheroos happened in the Exchange District, with Bronuts sold to the owners of Not A Donut (a mochi doughnut shop on Langside Street that was lost to a major fire in February) and Johnny G’s on McDermot Avenue changing hands.
JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Mumu Ma (left) and Echo Shen, owners of Not a Donut, took over the former Bronuts store in the Exchange after losing their original location to a fire.
The original Sorrento’s Bar and Pizzeria on Ellice Avenue is now an Ethiopian eatery, Rimyya Friendship Bar and Restaurant; the longtime Earl’s Main Street location will soon become a seafood joint called the Friskee Pearl; Le Garage on Provencher Boulevard is now Pregame Sports Bar and Lounge; and Tito Boy Restaurant, a Filipino fusion spot, moved into the former home of La Fiesta Cafecito on St. Anne’s Road.
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.
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