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Half Moon has all-out birthday

Gala weekend marks 75 years

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If a 50th anniversary is gold and a 60th is diamonds, does that mean a 75th is... cheeseburgers and fries?

It was this weekend at the Half Moon Drive-In, the iconic Lockport retro restaurant celebrating 75 years in business along the Red, one of the dwindling number of destination eateries in Manitoba.

"I thought what better to do after 75 years than giving something back," said owner Wayne McIntosh. "I went all in. But for all the right reasons."

The celebration includes free concerts, vintage car shows, Winnipeg Blue Bomber alumni, clowns, magicians -- even Furious Pete, a Guinness World Record-holding competitive eater who will be attempting to gorge himself on the Half Moon's menu of french fries, double cheeseburgers and foot-long hotdogs.

In anticipation of crowds of between 6,000-8,000 on Saturday and today, McIntosh -- who has owned the Half Moon for the last 27 years -- stocked up with 700 pounds of wieners (eight per pound) and 125 cases of hamburgers (50/lb).

In addition, McIntosh brought in 25 "alumni staff" (to bolster the crew of 55) to help man the two food trucks, mini-donut and ice cream trucks parked behind the restaurant, where the stage and kids festivities were set up.

McIntosh is hoping to use the anniversary as a springboard for attracting even more customers who for decades have taken the "Lockport Loop" up Henderson Highway, across the Red, then back down River Road to Winnipeg.

More free concerts. Some sock hops.

"Kind of bringing back that era of entertainment they used to have back in the day," McIntosh said. "I want to continue to provide free events. I don't want to charge."

The Half Moon was first opened in 1938 by brothers Peter and Louis Kosowicz, about a kilometre south of the existing eatery. McIntosh first joined the restaurant as a manager in the mid-1980s and eventually took full ownership about 11 years ago. Four years ago, he expanded the seating capacity from 90 to 170 patrons, many of whom remember driving out in their childhood days with their families for orange or grape sodas in glass bottles.

"It's real kooky," he said, of the 40 per cent of the business clientele who are hard-core regulars. "They're passionate about it."

And those regulars weren't about to miss the anniversary.

"When I was 20, I came here for the first time that I could drive," said Les Mike, now 60. "I've been coming ever since. I brought all my girlfriends here."

Mike was a hotdog guy. His companion on Saturday, Denise Pilon, has been partial to the fries (still hand-cut Yukon gold potatoes) and burgers.

Both Mike and Pilon were lamenting the loss in recent years of such Winnipeg food landmarks as Kelekis, Alicias and the Wagon Wheel.

"A lot of people still look for good-quality, down-home food," Pilon said. "We're losing everything. We're becoming too urbanized."

Debbie Siedleski, 49, also remembers her childhood days driving out from Winnipeg every Sunday with her "baba" for sodas. "If we were good, we got french fries," Siedelski said. "I'm not kidding. Baba was tough."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 14, 2013 A4

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