THE junction of Osborne Street and Morley Avenue brings together a funky mixture of old and new -- everything from high-end custom jewelry to Asian restaurants, a large bookshop with 100,000 titles, and a bakery that makes birthday cake for movie stars.
Got a sweet tooth? Chocolate Zen, at 553 Osborne St., is the masterpiece bakery of Doug Krahn and Betty Lai. "We made Richard Gere's birthday cake when he was here filming Shall We Dance? and we even taught Susan Sarandon how to decorate a cake herself for a scene they had to film with her actually doing it."
Krahn and Lai bake intricate custom cakes for weddings, anniversaries, and special birthdays -- some with real scenes from a person's life. For one Winnipeg man, Krahn created a birthday cake he'll never forget -- a standing replica of the tree and park bench where he sits when taking his poodle out for her daily walks. That one took almost a week for all the layering, colouring and drying.
The shop's signature cake is the Chocolate Marquis or Chocolate Zen cake, and celiacs go mad for its gluten-free lemon raspberry number. Its award-winning cheesecakes are in high demand as is their special apple strudel.
"The only thing we don't do is make bread," says Krahn, of his European-style bakery.
Next door is Sawatdee Thai.
"We're a Viet and Thai restaurant, open until 4 a.m. five days of the week, with Bar 555 in the lower level," says Linh Vo of the family-owned restaurant. Late night customers are not hard to find as musicians from late gigs in the city show up starving.
"And the people here are hungry when the bar downstairs closes. Luckily, we're still open upstairs," says server Phalatda Phrakonkham. The restaurant is full of large golden statues of fierce dragons and beautiful goddesses shipped all the way from Thailand. Red mini-lights create a rosy ambiance as the sun goes down. The most popular dishes to order are the pad Thai, ginger beef, Vietnamese salad rolls and Saigon soup.
Across the street at Hannah's Dressmaker, 564 Osborne, tailoring mama Jung Kim creates dresses from nothing more than a fantasy in a person's mind. "I don't need a pattern. Just bring me the material and a picture," she says. It could be from a magazine or a sketch, and then all she needs is your measurements. "I can make it from that."
Delivery time is three to four weeks. Racks of clothing projects sit in the front, and Jung Kim can be seen working away at her machines. The shop is named after her fashion designer daughter.
"My plan was to give the shop to my daughter Hannah, but she had her own plan. She went to Montreal to study fashion design and now she is working there, and I work here," she smiles.
In the former bank building on the northwest corner at 539 Osborne stands the Bijou custom jewelry store, with a downstairs factory owned by designers Ashiq Katoo and Glen Kennedy. Customers ring the doorbell and get checked through security. The look is Los Angeles chic -- with modern white lace metal work, mirrors, glass and diamonds sparkling in locked cases. They specialize in custom jewelry with abundant business in wedding and engagement rings. Says Katoo: "Just bring me a picture or a sketch. We can draw it up using computer images and then make a green wax model here for the customer to see." When it is approved, the ring is made up with the special metals and precious stones.
Katoo's father was a jeweller near New Delhi in India and Ashiq started working with him as a teenager. Katoo came to Canada on Jan. 19, 2002. "It was a cold day and I wasn't quite ready for it," he laughs. Nine years ago he started the Bijou fine jewelry store on Provencher Boulevard and still runs the original outlet with his wife Leonie Coulson.
Kennedy says they sell exquisite white diamonds as well as other colours. Recently he designed a ring for a bride who is crazy about wolves.
"I used a yellow diamond symbolic of the wolf's eye colour and chocolate diamonds around it to make a paw."
Just off the corner is well-known Burton Lysecki Books, at 527 Osborne, co-owned with business partner Karen Sigurdson. The store has grown to three times its original size and now boasts more than 100,000 titles, with a busy online presence as well as store sales.
"Our specialty is Manitoba history -- we have the most books on this subject of any store," says Sigurdson. People often come in looking for books about their area and some are researching their genealogy. She says the biggest part of their demographic is 20-somethings who have become big researchers on the Internet, but she says that doesn't dull their interest in books.
In and around this corner Riverview residents can get their teeth fixed, taxes done, hit a library and rec centre, pick up dinner at the Jade Inn, or Club House Pizza, get relief from aches and pains at Turtle Island Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, send baskets of gifts or hit the 7-Eleven 24 hours a day.
Before you go home, make a beeline north to the Banana Boat, 390 Osborne St., which opened a month ago in the snowbanks for excited people peeking in the windows and doors. That's the famous little ice cream shack with the signboard-for-hire outside. The top three favourite treats there are Cookie Dough Avalanche, s'mores (made of fudge, marshmallows and Golden Grahams cereal), and the Banog -- a banana and cinnamon milkshake with hunks of fresh fruit and a real egg whirled together. HOT TIP: For $15 per side per day you can put about 20 words on the large rentable sign outside -- anything from "Marry Me Pookie and I Will Make You the Happiest Woman on Earth" to "Get Out of my Life You Worm and You Know Who You Are!"
And here's an idea for a ton of fun when you get the ice cream treat down. If it's a Saturday or Sunday, you can hit the Mulvey Street flea market, two minutes away at Mulvey Street and Osborne, with up to 40 stalls open for treasure hunting!
Maureen Scurfield is an urban explorer whose goal is to look behind every interesting door in Winnipeg.