Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Don't eat and run

Now that Roxy's has gone from takeout joint to eat-in restaurant, you can sit down to scarf your 20-ounce burger

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On your marks, get set, gorge...

With the Summer Olympics drawing to a close, let's kick things off with a story about a less-publicized but equally hard-fought competition that took place a tad closer to home.

Earlier this year, Roxy's Diner, located in Oak Bluff, hosted its inaugural Xtreme Dan challenge. Every Friday night for six weeks, groups of people battled it out to determine who could consume Roxy's signature burger, the Xtreme Dan, the fastest. (One bout boasted an all-female lineup; another featured only guys who answered to Dan.)

And what is an Xtreme Dan, you ask? Well, why don't we let the restaurant's namesake, Roxy Last, explain.

"It's a 20-ounce burger that actually weighs closer to two pounds, after you include the bun, bacon, cheese, pickles, fried onions, lettuce, tomato and mayo," says Roxy, who runs Roxy's in tandem with her mother, Jen.

"We named it after my best friend's boyfriend, Dan, who helped us out a ton with our new building."

On April 1, the 10 contestants who posted the speediest times in the preliminary heats gathered in Roxy's lounge for a winner-take-all chow-down. Unfortunately, the overall champion couldn't match his personal best -- a world-record two minutes and 16 seconds. But that was only because Jen and Roxy threw a last-minute wrench into the proceedings. In addition to an Xtreme Dan, each finalist also had to polish off an order of fries and (burp) a cold one.


Last but not least

THE Lasts are the third set of owners to operate a roadside restaurant on Highway 3, just west of the Perimeter Highway.

Don Hamm opened Hamm's Drive In in 1997. A few years later, he sold the business to two women named Katie and Carol, hence Tag No. 2: KC's.

The Lasts came on board in 2005 after Carol, who now works at Roxy's, told Jen it would be a perfect fit for her.

At the time, Jen was running the Prairie Gourmet in nearby Sanford. But because she was renting that locale, she jumped at the chance to secure a place of her own.

As to the sign on the door, Jen toyed around with a few other titles but nothing rolled off the tongue quite like Roxy's, she says, noting that she named her daughter less for Sweeney Todd's mid-'70s smash Roxy Roller and more for Daryl Hannah's character in the 1987 comedy Roxanne. (Jen and her husband John have two children. The diner's Big Al Burger is so-called for their son, Alex.)


Meals on wheels

LIKE Hamm's and KC's before it, Roxy's started life as a seasonal takeout stand. In December 2009, Jen and Roxy decided that selling burgers and dogs for seven out of 12 months wasn't going to cut the mustard. So they hired an architect to draw up plans for a new structure that could operate on a year-round basis.

Jen and Roxy were buoyed when they got the sketches back. But they wondered how they would be able to afford to turn their dream into reality. At about the same time, they learned that an existing building -- one that was roughly the same size as what they were hoping for -- had come up for sale. The price was right but there was one glitch: it was situated 34 kilometres away in Fannystelle, and the mother-and-daughter combo had no intention of pulling up stakes again.

To make a long story short, the Lasts purchased the Fannystelle Hotel in November 2010. Two months later, they had it moved, hook, line and duct work, to Oak Bluff.

"Everybody in town said, 'You have to tell us when it's coming, so we can go outside and watch,'" Jen says. Onlookers got their money's worth; because the 2,850-square-foot inn was too massive to fit on the mover's flatbed truck in one piece, it had to be cut in half and delivered separately.

"The guys who did it were masters," Jen says, showing a visitor a well-disguised, six millimetre-wide gap in the back of the building. "That's how close they got. I'll probably never patch that completely, just so I have a reminder of how things began."


Where's the beef?

IT'S been 13 months since Roxy's was reborn as a full-fledged diner and lounge. That isn't long enough, it seems, to make everybody forget about the old digs.

"People pull in to the side of the road all the time and look around, trying to figure out where we went," Roxy says. "But what's also funny is the people who live near Fannystelle; they'll come in and say they know they've seen this place before, but they can't figure out where exactly."

The change in venue also meant a change in the kitchen. Instead of concentrating strictly on takeout fare, Roxy's now serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. All of the home-style recipes are Jen's.

"I never had enough money or time to go to (cooking) school, so for the first 15 years I worked in restaurants, I treated every shift like a classroom; I read every cookbook I could get my hands on and kept trying different things until I got good at them," she says, adding that while she doesn't mind still being pigeon-holed as a burger place, what she's really looking forward to is becoming "that place in the country where couples can go for a nice drive to enjoy a sit-down dinner."

Of course, Roxy admits that there will probably always be a contingent of customers who wish she and her mom hadn't changed a thing.

"A few have said that we lost a bit of our charm when we tore the old place down," Roxy says. "My reply is always, 'You know, when we were in there freezing our butts off in early April and late October, it never felt particularly charming.'"

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2012 E3

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