Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Still firing up the grill at 90

Korol's Lunch owner has been flipping burgers since 1957

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AT 90, Mary Korolyk has got to be the oldest burger-flipper in Canada. Five days a week, the elderly woman opens the doors of her tiny restaurant, fires up the grill and waits for a trickle of customers to arrive. It's a routine she has followed for 45 years; the secret, she says, of her long life.

"Why would I retire?" she asks. "So I can sit in a chair, watch TV and die without anyone knowing? I like it here. People come in, I know all the gossip. I'm happy with what I do here. I'm not lonely here."

Korol's Lunch opened on the corner of Logan Avenue and Keewatin Street in 1957. Korolyk and her late husband Bill, gone some 29 years now, poured their hearts and souls into the 12-stool lunch counter. In its glory days, the place was open until 3 and 4 in the morning, providing fries, burgers and coffee for late-night drinkers and partiers.

In those years, people would cheerfully cram into the narrow restaurant, standing two and three deep at the counter. Bill would throw open the doors in winter, letting out clouds of smoke and sweeping in billows of fresh air. Korol's was the place to stop on the way home, the Rock-Ola jukebox was always fired up, the metal icebox keeping the Cokes cold.

Today, the place is like a museum. The counter is smooth and worn almost bare in places. The jukebox holds Elvis and Johnny Nash, the cash register looks like something out of a museum and the wooden stools are so worn that grooves dictate where a bottom can comfortably rest.

Korolyk says she and everything else in the place are antiques.

"I don't work that many hours now," she says. "I'm closed on Sunday and Monday. I only open from 11 to maybe 4. This is almost like not working."

Work

When she says that, there's no humour evident in her voice. Korolyk can't understand people who choose not to work, and can't ever imagine a time when she would close the restaurant permanently. She's gone six years without a holiday and runs the place entirely without help, cooking, cleaning and filling the orders. In Korol's heyday, there were students who came in and did odd jobs. Now, she says, business is so slow she can manage alone.

"Most of my original customers are dead," she says. "I have lots of people who come in now, been coming for 15 or 20 years."

She lives upstairs in a suite Bill built. Her eldest son, now 68, has the second suite. It's a convenience she loves.

"I just come down and I'm at work. If you don't work," she says, "you get fatter and fatter. Soon you give up."

Korolyk's perfect health is something of a miracle. Her mind is sharp, her hearing acute and her posture near-perfect. She's not on any medication. She still drives and boasts she has five merits on her licence. A participant in a University of Manitoba study on aging, she joshes that her only regret is she's a little old for her cute doctor.

"He comes to see me. I'm a somebody."

Good genes are a factor. Her paternal great-grandfather lived to 118, according to family legend. She never smoked and says her diet has always been good.

"Like the food I serve here," she says with a grin. "I've got no secrets. I have everything home-made. That's all."

Regular George Chrisp, who lives a block away from Korol's, says he can't imagine not dropping in for a meal.

"It's the best food in Winnipeg, so you might as well come here," he says. "You go somewhere else, you pay more and it's not as good."

Korolyk says she might consider retiring "in 10 years." She celebrates her 90th birthday on Feb. 3. After that, it's back to work.

"Maybe I should just be a housekeeper, cook and clean for someone," she says with a wicked grin. "I have to keep busy, stay out of trouble."

PHOTO WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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