Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Where everybody knows your name

2 Kelly's Cafe is like a home away from home... and even a Cheers star thinks so

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Once upon a time, Kelly Oxelgren applied for a job checking coats at Club Regent Casino.

During her interview Oxelgren was asked, "If a parent enters with a toddler and tells you the child needs to use the restroom, do you let them in?"

"Yes, of course," replied the married mother of two.

Within a couple of weeks, Oxelgren received a letter from the casino informing her she flunked her interview.

"I was like, if I'm not even qualified to hang up jackets, what chance have I got?'" Oxelgren says, with a laugh.

Oxelgren resorted to Plan B. She approached her boss at Kronen's, a downtown café where she worked two shifts a week. She told him she would be interested in buying the home-style restaurant, located at 81 Garry St., if he ever decided to sell.

"Deal," he said.

Six years later -- on Jan. 1, 2005 -- Kronen's was reborn as 2 Kelly's Cafe, a breakfast and lunch nook that specializes in omelets, sandwiches, salads and burgers.

About that name...

Even when Oxelgren was working at Kronen's as a server, the 48-seat locale always felt like home. She knew 90 per cent of her customers by name, what they did for a living, how many kids they had...

Because of that, the new owner's first impulse was to rename Kronen's something akin to Kelly's Place. Or Kelly's House.

But as Oxelgren began jotting down ideas, she thought how rewarding it would be to hear people say, "Let's go to Kelly's Cafe." So she scribbled that phrase out on a notepad, substituting "2" for "to."

No biggie, right? Wrong.

Hardly a day goes by without somebody asking where Kelly No. 2 is hiding.

"I'll say things like, 'Oh, she's in the back -- she's the brains of the operation.' Or if I mess up an order I say, 'Don't worry, I'll get the other Kelly to deal with it.'" (The closest 2 Kelly's got to two Kellys was the morning former Blue Bombers coach Mike Kelly popped in for bacon and eggs and posed for a pic with Oxelgren when he was all done.)

-- -- --


Five years ago, Oxelgren was getting into her "beater van" to drive to work when she noticed one of her tires was low.

She stopped to get some air. But because it was -35 C -- and because she'd forgotten her mitts -- her fingers almost got frostbite while holding onto the metal gauge.

When Oxelgren got to work, she recounted the story of her frozen digits to anybody who'd listen. (No, people didn't have a choice, says the self-described chatty Cathy.)

One customer said the pain sounded like what would occur if you licked a steel pole in January.

"Wait; nobody's actually done that, have they?" Oxelgren wondered aloud.

Curious, she grabbed a sheet of foolscap and wrote, "Have you ever gotten your tongue stuck on a metal object in the winter?" She taped the questionnaire to the counter next to her cash register and told customers to tick off "Yes" or "No," while they were waiting in line to pay.

Thus was born 2 Kelly's Café's "Question of the Week" -- a not-so-scientific survey that polls people about everything from whether or not they have urinated in a body of water (uh, next query) to what their favourite Monopoly game-piece is (easy, the thimble!).

"If I don't have a new question out by Tuesday, people start rioting," Oxelgren says.

"What I love best about it is it gets everybody in here talking to each other. There will be a guy in a business suit seated next to a grandmother seated next to a couple of blue-collar guys, and they'll all be discussing something like, 'Do you sleep with your socks on?'"

By the way, if you are the type of person who can't go five seconds without reaching for your cellphone, 2 Kelly's may not be the place for you.

"If you're texting somebody at the same time you're ordering, I will tell you -- in a motherly way -- to put down your phone and look at me," Oxelgren says.

-- -- --


In 2011, Cheers star George Wendt appeared in Rainbow Stage's production of Hairspray.

During his time in Winnipeg, Wendt lived at Fort Garry Place, the downtown high rise that houses 2 Kelly's Cafe on its main level.

"George ate here every single day for a month; some days three times," Oxelgren says, noting the actor was "extremely shy" and latched onto her spot, she thinks, because everybody there treated him like one of the regulars.

Here's something that probably never happens to Ted Danson.

Oxelgren shuts down her grill at 4 p.m. during the week, except Tuesdays, when she stays open until 5:30 to feed a bridge club.

On days when Wendt couldn't get to 2 Kelly's in time to fetch his dinner -- usually a clubhouse, soup and a slice of apple pie-- he asked Oxelgren to do him a favour.

"There's a (potted) tree just outside of the restaurant, next to my sign," Oxelgren explains. "George told me to hide his supper in a bag at the base of the tree -- along with reheating instructions -- where he'd pick it up later."

-- -- --

2 Kelly's Cafe opens at 8:15 a.m. Monday to Friday (Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). But Oxelgren admits there is the odd morning when customers beat her to work.

"I am getting better, but there used to be a judge here almost every morning, waiting for me to open. He wouldn't say anything if I was late, he'd just look at me and tap his watch," Oxelgren says.

In the beginning, Oxelgren felt compelled to come up with different excuses to explain her tardiness. But after one too many the-dog-ate-my-homework-type stories, she decided honesty was the best policy.

"I'm not late because I was at home trying to make myself look pretty, lemme tell ya,'" she told him. "I'm tired."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 E3

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