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Just like family

Customers feel at home as much as the owners

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The exterior of Luda�s Deli at 410 Aberdeen Ave.

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The exterior of Luda�s Deli at 410 Aberdeen Ave.

"Teddy the chiropractor" is one of the noon-hour regulars at Eddy's Place, a frozen-in-time diner located at 669 Selkirk Ave.

Just don't ask the North End institution's chief cook and bottle washer what Teddy's last name is: Annette Gougeon doesn't know and frankly, she's never bothered to ask.

"I can tell you what he orders and where he likes to sit, but that's about it," Gougeon says with a laugh.

A few months ago, Gougeon was limping around her open-style grill, nursing a sore back. Teddy, perched at his usual spot at Eddy's seven-seat lunch counter, noticed Gougeon was in pain and asked where the ache was coming from, precisely.

The doc looked over his shoulder at the room's pair of snooker tables — the last remnants of an era when the city's top pool players would congregate there to shoot stick on five championship Brunswick tables. Teddy briefly considering using one of the tables as a stand-in for a chiropractic bed. But he didn't want to interrupt the games currently going on.

"I told him we had a freezer in the back office," Gougeon says. "He helped me up and swear to God, I was as good as new in five minutes."

OK, so maybe it's not every place where the owner trusts her customers enough to let them anywhere near her spinal column. But then again, every place isn't Eddy's Place.

Eddy was Edward Koranicki. Koranicki died of cancer in 1992, 37 years after he left a job with the CNR to take over a combination barbershop/pool hall called Al's.

"Dad was a pretty good pool player," says Koranicki's daughter, Tracy Konopada, who figures her father changed the name from Al's to Eddy's some time in the mid-'60s. "In fact, it wasn't uncommon for Dad to stop in the middle of a haircut if it was his turn to shoot. 'I'll be right back,' he'd say and away he'd go."

Nowadays, Konopada is the owner of Luda's Deli, an iconic lunch nook in its own right. Konopada started working at Eddy's Place in 1970 when she was 12, around the same time her father's second wife, Marie, introduced food to the mix in a bid to feed the sharks who popped into Eddy's day and night. (The last major renovation occurred in 1977: that's when three pool tables were removed to make way for a slate of moulded, orange and brown booths.)

Konopada laughs when asked if toiling in a male-dominated pool hall provided her with a different type of education than the one she was getting at Aberdeen Junior High School.

"Ha, I was the one who could never get into trouble," says Konopada. "Any time I did something wrong, the guys in the neighbourhood would report it back to my father."

Gougeon was Koranicki's sister-in-law. She got on at Eddy's in 1982, after Konopada sprained her ankle.

"My sister (Marie) asked if I could come and help out until Tracy was back on her feet again," Gougeon says. "I'd never thought about working in a restaurant before and I figured they just wanted me to run around, taking orders. But Marie said 'No, we need you in the kitchen.' "

Gougeon was still in the kitchen when Konopada left in 1987 to start Luda's. She was still there five years later when Koranicki died. And she was still there in 1999, when her sister sold the restaurant to outside interests. (Marie lost her own battle with cancer in 2004.)

Gougeon worked for the new owner for six months before taking a position at a downtown deli called Gail's on Garry. In 2010, Gougeon was at a funeral when she bumped into Tom Humniski and Cheryl Riediger, Eddy's third set of owners since the Koranickis.

"So you're the famous Annette," Riediger said when she realized who she was talking to. "All my customers do is tell me what a great cook you are."

Humniski and Riediger persuaded Gougeon to return to Eddy's in the spring of 2011. After Riediger died suddenly later that year, Humniski decided to get out of the restaurant business. Gougeon, who pegs her age as "not a spring chicken but young at heart," decided she wasn't going to let Eddy's get away from the family, again. In March 2012, she bought the restaurant together with her son, Dan, and his partner, Tanis Desrochers.

Corned beef sandwiches — packed an inch thick, the meat sliced, not shaved — are still the most popular item on the menu. As if on cue, a customer walks through the door and before he even removes his jacket yells out, "Corned beef, hot (mustard) with fries..." ("You'll have to wait your turn," the owner shouts back, with a grin on her face.)

Indeed, the rapport Gougeon has with her clientele — some of whom she has cooked for since they couldn't see above the pool tables — is one of the main charms of Eddy's Place. Regulars think nothing of pitching in and pouring coffee for the room when Gougeon is backed up with orders.

"Sometimes I have to send one of 'em out to City Bread (on Dufferin Avenue) if I'm stuck behind the grill," she says. "I tell them I'll buy them breakfast but they never take me up on the offer — they say they're happy to go."

And even though it's been 21 years since Koranicki died, Gougeon says there has never been a debate about changing the sign on the door.

"Oh, no, I would never do that. It just wouldn't be proper," she says, noting she's still close to Konopada and in a perfect world, it would have been her and her step-niece who succeeded her sister as owners, 14 years ago. "I've known Tracy since she was this high; my daughter was a flower girl at her wedding; it's very important to me that when she drives by or comes to visit she sees her dad's name up there."

Eddy's Place is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 29, 2013 A1


Updated on Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 4:01 PM CDT: adds new first paragraph

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