Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Truck stop transformed

Fort Garry's A and V used to be P&T, where men were men and women were scarce...

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You're getting sleepy. And sleepier...

Not long after Angelo and Vicky Cavadas opened the A and V Drive In, a customer there named Moe began chiding the couple whenever they snuck out back for a smoke break.

"He said, 'Why don't you quit? It's not good for you,'" Vicky says, adding that Moe's son is Vance Romane -- a Vancouver-based hypnotist who uses his talent to help people give up cigarettes.

One morning, after Moe told the pair for the umpteenth time that they should butt out, Vicky proposed a deal.

"I said, 'I'll tell you what. My birthday is coming up, so why don't get us two tickets to your son's (Stop Smoking) show. If it works, great. But if it doesn't, don't bother us again.'"

This year marks a pair of milestones for the Cavadases: First, it's been 20 years since Angelo first asked Vicky out on a date, after meeting her at a Portage Avenue take-out joint called Mr. Chips. Second, it's been seven years since the owners of the A and V Drive-In last took a puff thanks, in no small part, to Romane. (Although Romane doesn't eat meat, he doesn't shy away from the burger haven when he's in town. "Angelo and Vicky always prepare something special for me, such as soup or a sandwich," Romane says from his home in B.C. "But their food is secondary; their company is best.")

 

They heard it through the grapevine

Before the Cavadases came along, the A and V Drive In was called the P & T Truck Stop, a no-nonsense diner located at 1200 Chevrier Blvd., in the heart of the Fort Garry Industrial Park.

In 2004, owner Tony Louizos was chatting with an employee at the Greek Market on Corydon Avenue when one of Angelo's buddies overheard Louizos mention that he and his partner -- his brother, Peter -- were considering leasing the converted bungalow to another party.

After hearing the news, Angelo -- who, at the time, was working with his wife at Johnny's Maples Pizza -- told Vicky, "Let's not hesitate. Let's give them a call tomorrow."

Considering that there wasn't even a For Rent sign up yet, the Louizos brothers were "a bit shocked" when Angelo phoned to ask, "How much?"

"But they invited us down, we sat and talked and by the end of the discussion, they said, 'OK,'" Vicky says, adding that the brothers stayed on for two weeks after turning over the keys, to make sure the Cavadases learned the ropes.


Initial reaction

Angelo and Vicky took over the breakfast-and-lunch nook on Sept. 1, 2004. They kept the original name for about a month before deciding it was time for a full-scale change.

"I think the words 'truck stop' dissuaded women who worked in the area from coming in," says Vicky, mentioning that, early on, her clientele was "100 per cent male -- not that there's anything wrong with that."

"But after we changed the name and added a few different things to the menu, like gyros, Greek salads and Reubens, all of a sudden it was like, 'Boom.' We were getting tables full of women for lunch, every day," she says.

Just wondering: did Angelo and Vicky ever hear from a certain burger family, in regards to their moniker?

"No, but one of my brothers did point that out -- that A and V was kind of close to A&W -- when he saw the sign," Angelo says. "But hey -- what are we supposed to do? Those are our names." Actually, Vicky gives people a contrary response -- and a wink -- when they ask her what the letters stand for. "I tell them that V is for Vicky and that A is for (unpleasant word)."


Breakfast of champions

Nutrition experts agree that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But who's to say what constitutes "breakfast?"

"I get people ordering fat boys at 7 a.m. -- guys who are coming off graveyard shifts and are starving," Angelo says. Only glitch: Angelo doesn't fire up his deep fryer until 10:30 a.m., so instead of french fries, customers have to chase their early morning burgers with a side of hashbrowns.

"But they always tell me to throw some gold on top of the hashbrowns; that's their name for my chili," Angelo says.

When it comes to more conventional breakfasts, Angelo estimates that he goes through about 2,000 eggs a week. Here's a tip, however: if you want to stay on the cook's good side, you should probably request yours sunny side-up.

"Whoever invented scrambled eggs should be shot," Angelo says. "There are mornings when I'll get nine or 10 orders in a row, all scrambled. It's not like they're hard to make but they take up such a schwack of space, I don't have room on my grill for anything else."


Where everybody knows your name

"Norm!"

"It really is like Cheers here," says Vicky. "Everybody knows everybody. We even have a regular named Norm." (Big surprise: Norm's seat-of-choice is at the corner of the A and V's nine-stool lunch counter.)

Another familiar face at the 40-seat locale is Angelo's 78-year-old father, Tom, who comes in on Thursdays and Fridays to lend a hand.

"My family used to own the Acropolis Restaurant on Sherbrook -- that's where I learned how to cook," Angelo says. "So we get a lot of people in here who recognize my dad from the old days."

And although the majority of customers live or work in the area, there are people who drive across town on a regular basis for an "A & V Omelet" or a "Hot Hamburger Platter."

"It's also interesting when it's summer holidays or there's an in-service day at school," Angelo says. "That's when we get a lot of fathers in with their sons, kind of showing off the place.

"They sit at the counter and the father explains to his kid, 'This is where Daddy eats when he's at work.'"

The A and V Drive In is open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday.

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 E3

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