Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Half Moon Drive In in Lockport gives new meaning to the 'dog' days of summer

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Last month, Joey (Jaws) Chestnut downed 68 hotdogs in 10 minutes to win his sixth consecutive Coney Island hotdog-eating contest.

If Chestnut ever gets his appetite back, Wayne McIntosh, owner of the Half Moon Drive In at 6860 Henderson Hwy., has an idea for him to chew on: come to Lockport next summer and participate in a hotdog-eating contest in celebration of the venerable diner's 75th anniversary.

"I've got a lot of plans in the works, but one of the things I'm really hoping to do is host a food challenge, featuring Blue Bomber alumni," says McIntosh.

"I actually kept the newspaper story (about Chestnut's win) because I was thinking of getting in touch with him to see if he wants to take on the Bombers." (We contacted Chestnut for a response but unfortunately, his mouth was too full to answer; at deadline, he was participating in a chicken wing-eating contest in Clearwater, Fla.)

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Brothers Peter and Louie Kosowicz opened the Half Moon Drive In in 1938. The first incarnation consisted of three wooden buildings shaped like semicircles -- one was for takeout, one was for dine-in, the third was a dance hall, later an arcade -- and was situated about 500 metres south of the current digs.

"Peter and Louie ran things all the way up until 1979, then decided they'd had enough. The new set of owners moved over here in 1983, after this building came up for sale," says McIntosh, noting that Site No. 1 was razed and paved over years ago, and is now home to a bank of not-so-historic community mailboxes.

The Half Moon's second owners also ran a satellite operation in Transcona for three years, from 1979 to 1982. McIntosh grew up nearby and worked at the Day Street spot -- now the Whistle Pig -- when he was 16 years old.

After graduating from Red River College's business administration course in 1987, McIntosh and a friend of his from that course got jobs as managers at the Lockport location. When the business hit the market again in 1992, McIntosh and his chum jumped at the chance to purchase it for themselves. Nine years later, McIntosh took over as sole proprietor. One of the first things McIntosh did was contact Peter Kosowicz, who's now in his 90s, to see what artifacts, if any, he still had from the old structure.

"To make a long story short, most of the original neon that was on that building has now been fully restored, and is here, on my roof."

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Franks are the chief draw at the Half Moon Drive In. Always have been.

The restaurant has used the same supplier for its European-style wieners -- Winnipeg Old Country Sausage -- from the get-go. One wing of the restaurant serves as a wall of fame. It is lined with plaques and news articles from various outlets, declaring the Half Moon's dogs best in show.

On a typical weekend afternoon in the summer, McIntosh's staff serves as many as 2,000 Moon Dogs and another 1,000 or so Saturn Burgers. (What, no Uranus?)

"I'd say that close to 80 per cent of our customers are from Winnipeg out for a Sunday drive, but really, we get people from all over the world," the owner says.

"That bridge behind me (the Lockport Bridge, linking provincial highways 8 and 9) is one of the busiest in the province, and sees anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 cars go over it in a week."

-- -- --

McIntosh increased his seating capacity from 90 to 170 three years ago. (There are also 30 picnic tables in the back, looking out at the St. Andrews lock and dam, with room for another 200 diners.)

The newer wing's checkered floor, red vinyl upholstered booths and vintage, tin signage conjure memories of Arnold's Drive-In from Happy Days, or Pop Tate's Chock'lit Shoppe from Archie Comics. Mounted television sets are tuned into acts like Chubby Checker and Herman's Hermits morning until night. A hand-painted mural on the addition's north wall -- you'll spot it, it frames the tail end of an actual '57 Chevy -- is McIntosh's personal tribute to his favourite icons from that era: Presley, Monroe, Dean and Mansfield.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: the generation that my parents grew up in was, in my opinion, probably the funnest time ever," says McIntosh, 47, himself a father of two. "Everything was innocent. Everybody had a lot of fun. Which is the main reason I decked this place out like a retro diner: so that young kids who come here could get an idea of what their parents and grandparents grew up with."

One person who took notice was actress Meredith Baxter. When the former Family Ties star was in Manitoba scouting locations for a movie she was producing nine years ago, she approached McIntosh and asked if her crew could land on the "Moon" for a day or three.

"She was super in love with the place but I would have to shut down for the week leading up to July long weekend, which is my busiest time of the year," McIntosh says. "Finally I told her, 'I appreciate your interest but I just can't do it.'" (Not to worry: the Moon has since been the star of two other films: 2006's Among Thieves and 2011's Path of Souls.)

-- -- --

Politics make strange bedfellows. So do hotdogs.

In June, McIntosh got an email from a person in Vancouver. The woman was shopping around for Father's Day presents and wanted to know if McIntosh could send her a gift certificate for her dad, who lives in Winnipeg.

"She should have just left it at that," McIntosh says with a laugh. "Because the next thing she said was, 'Yeah, my father really likes Skinner's.'" (Skinner's, of course, is the Half Moon's cross-river rival. Its River Road location predates the Half Moon by eight years.)

"But it's all good. People might think it's odd because we're in direct competition but Lyle (Thompson, the owner of Skinner's) and I are actually pretty close; I've been to his house, he's been to mine, we go to Jets games together -- we've really become best friends."

Right now, McIntosh and Thompson, along with other area merchants are busy preparing for the third annual Lockport Family Dam Festival, which runs Aug. 17 to 19.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 E3

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