Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Home for the hotdogs

Ex-city folk visit eatery for last time

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WHEN Ron White heard the news C. Kelekis Restaurant was closing, he knew he had to round up some friends and come in for The Last Supper.

That wouldn't seem so unusual if it weren't for the fact White, as well as two of his longtime buddies, Marla Minuk and Josie Distasio, live in Toronto.

They flew into town Monday and drove straight from the airport to the Main Street institution to meet up with old high school and university chums. Then they came back Tuesday for lunch and an early dinner before heading back home.

"We heard they were running out of food because of the rush of people. We thought, 'We've got to come now.' There was a bit of a panic setting in," he said with a laugh.

"We're staging our meals so we can get in all of our favourites."

The string of emails started three weeks ago when Winnipegger Darren Earn thought his expat friends would want to know about the pending closure of their favourite eatery.

"Next thing I know, there's a stream of emails with plans to come to Winnipeg just to come to Kelekis and here we are," he said.

When Minuk walked in the door, memories of her childhood quickly washed over her.

"I came here with my family all the time. My late father used to go to that counter," she said, pointing towards the front of the store, her voice cracking. "I'd take fries from him all the time.

"Sometimes we'd be at home and my father would pick up boxes of fries, bring them home and we'd hang out."

Mary Kelekis, the face of the more than 80-year-old restaurant, said the place has been packed since "the announcement."

"You'd think they'd never eaten or been here at all. All of a sudden, they realize we're closing and now they're coming to get their fill," she said.

Perhaps the most popular question being asked is "What are you going to do with the pictures on the wall?" Jim Pappas, Kelekis's nephew, said a final decision hasn't been made with respect to the hundreds of photos of politicians, athletes, entertainers and other famous people -- about 100 are on display but many more are in boxes and albums in the basement -- but they're going to scan them all and put them on the restaurant's website.

"Seeing some of them will bring back incredible memories. We're trying to preserve it like a virtual museum," he said.

What is clear about Kelekis closing is emotions are very close to the surface. Pappas said one older gentleman came up to him a couple of days ago and started to talk but no sound came out. "He threw his arms around me and hugged me and he started to cry. He has been coming here since he was 10 years old and he's 80. Seventy years of his life have been here and it's very hard to hear that. It gets very emotional," Pappas said, as his eyes welled up.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 19, 2012 B1

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