Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Want memories with those fries?
A collection of Kelekis stories from our readers
The news of Kelekis closing brings to mind a lot of family memories. My grandparents were very good friends with the Kelekis family, and in particular my grandmother was very close with Sophie. My mother tells the story of when she was in the hospital after giving birth to my older brother. Because she didn't like the hospital food, Sophie would send care packages of hotdogs, fries and coleslaw. As a kid, we would go there regularly and were always made to feel like part of the family. My last few birthdays, I have taken my own family there for supper, enjoying the food with my kids the way I remembered it as a kid. To Mary and Jimmy, thanks for all the years and memories.
-- Morgan Ganetsky
In the '60s, it was a family tradition on Sundays that Mom and Dad would take my sister Shelly and me to Kelekis for hotdogs and fries. We always ate in the car and got excited when Dad returned with dogs wrapped in foil and oh, those shoestring fries! All contained in a flimsy cardboard box. We parked in the same spot facing Main Street, and across the street was an old-folks home and we would listen to the CJOB radio show Shut Ins with host George McCloy, with Dad reminding us of shut-ins and to always be respectful of older people. Dad was always very proud that he knew Mary Kelekis, as he went to school with her!
-- Tracy Baldwin
When I was a kid growing up, my parents used to take me to Kelekis for the hotdogs and fries on a regular basis. One year, it was Passover and we could not go there for the eight days, so Sophie Truss, one of the sisters, made us fried matzo just before Passover started as a treat!!
-- Lorne Raber
On April 7, 1962, I met my wife on a blind date at Kelekis. My cousin invited me to meet a girl from her church choir. We met at Kelekis after her choir practice. The girl I was supposed to meet did not come to choir practice, so my cousin brought along another girl. That was 50 years ago and we will celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary this year.
-- Bill Markusa
I was introduced to this treasure by my dad, Roy Kenna, a city health inspector over 60-plus years ago. Over the years, when I came back to Winnipeg to surprise my folks, I would take a city bus (Main Street) from the airport to Kelekis' place, eat and then call my family to say, "Hello. Could you pick me up at Kelekis's?" We all got a kick about this. I nearly came back this year for a visit, and sorry, I did not know about the closing.
-- Ron Dee
Mary's sister, Isabel, and her brother-in-law Bill (Uncle Willy) were slated to be my godparents. However, my father declined to have me baptized in the Greek Church. Nevertheless, our families remained close, and I recall having many chocolate shakes at Uncle Willy's restaurant around the corner from our family business, Rovatzos Flowerland on Notre Dame. When Willy's business closed, Isabel went to work with Mary at Kelekis for many years. When my dad became executive director of the Main Street Project, we occasionally met for lunch at Kelekis, where we were always welcomed with open arms. After my dad passed away, I didn't frequent Kelekis for quite a long time. Yet, last summer, when I had occasion to co-host a group visiting from various parts of Canada, we decided we should take them to Kelekis. Even though Mary hadn't seen me for probably 15 years, she immediately recognized me, and it was like old home week with Mary and her son. Unbelievable. Even though the doors are closing at Kelekis, Mary will remain an icon in this city, and particularly within the Greek community, forever.
-- Grant Rodgers
We used to live in the area when our first son was a toddler. Kelekis, to me, will always be the place where he discovered gravy, and we've got this iconic photo of him covered in it -- gravy boat in the foreground, the background a haze of orange vinyl and those other great photos.
-- Gabe Derksen
My memories of Kelekis stretch back to my childhood in River Heights in the late 1950s and early 1960s. We would drive to the North End for those Kelekis chips, the best anywhere -- the best. And the way they made a hotdog -- splitting the wiener and grilling the onions "inside" the wiener, producing the most delicious result. Slather on the mustard and relish... my mouth is watering. With bottles of Coca-Cola. Even the smell inside the restaurant was special. This is one big marker of the disappearance of the world we knew.
-- Stephen Cera
I remember going to Kelekis as a little kid in the mid-'50s. My mom worked evenings and my dad would take my brother and me with him when he went to pick her up. On some summer nights, if we were really lucky, we would stop at Kelekis on the way home and place our orders for skinny fries from their front window. They were served in a small brown cardboard "boat," and you had to have vinegar and salt with your chips. Sometimes, as an added special treat, we got hotdogs, always split, with "the works." They were the best hotdogs I ever ate, and they snapped when you bit into them. Over the years, I kept going back to Kelekis with my family and friends. I will miss the place, but wish the Kelekis family all the best.
-- Darlene Dziewit
My late father grew up in the North End. When he was planning a scavenger hunt for my friends and I (when I was in my 30s), one of the things we had to get without paying for it or saying we were on a scavenger hunt was one french fry and Mary's autograph. All teams succeeded! When I was growing up, we used to go to Kelekis before we went to Rainbow Stage. To this day, many, many years later, I have carried on the tradition with my own family. I will truly miss Kelekis and all of my memories from there. All the best Mary.
-- Dorothy Y. Young
My family was in the vanguard of the postwar "move south" of the Jewish community. We moved to the barren wilds of Brock Street between Haskins and Jackson (street names long since replaced by Grosvenor and Corydon) in 1948. My baba (grandmother) remained in the longtime family home on Boyd just west of Main, and we faithfully visited her every Sunday. Part of the joy of bonding with my only grandparent was the guarantee with every such trip north there would be a stop at Kelekis to or fro for at least a nickel bag of chips. The ultimate demonstration of my having reached "big-boy" status was when, at approximately age 5, I could, with fully outstretched arm, barely reach to the bottom ledge of the long-gone pass-through window, place my nickel on the ledge and proudly announce to whichever of the Kelekis sisters was at the window that I wanted a bag of chips. A memory not too different from many others but certainly a rite of passage for me. A loss for Winnipeg, but one that will never be forgotten.
-- Ron Singer
My Mama would take me there every Saturday after Ukrainian school, and our visits have continued until today. We'd sit at the same spot at the counter and order the same food every visit. I always looked forward to the meals we shared there, but it'll be a sad day in my life when I finish my last Kelekis hotdog and shoestring fries.
-- Andrijko Semaniuk
With all due respect to Mary Kelekis and her iconic restaurant, my memory is this. Having lived within throwing distance of Kelekis for 25 years, it was always puzzling to me how Kelekis obtained its legendary status. Try as I might, after numerous visits I just could not wrap my head around its near-mythical status. Any rational person would have to admit that the food (and service) was mediocre at best and completely ordinary at worst. Kelekis is among the list of other puzzling restaurants in Winnipeg (Rae and Jerry's, Skinners) that seem solely to be famous for being famous. My best memory of Kelekis? After arriving with eight out-of-town guests on Sunday morning, our party (on their first visit to the legendary restaurant) was directed to counter seating in an empty restaurant. After voicing our objection to none other than Mary Kelekis herself, we were informed to take it or leave it. We left it.
-- Matt Vinet
I was born and grew up in east Point Douglas in the '30s, and it was an every-Saturday-morning ritual to visit the marketplace on the west side of Main just south of Flora. Of course, while mother shopped at the market, little Tarasik needed his usual chips either from Smitty's on the west side of Main or the shoestring fries from Kelekis on the east side of Main. Later, when the Holy Trinity Cathedral was constructed at 1175 Main St., the youth would regularly visit Kelekis at the Redwood location for snacks after youth meetings or between events on a busy Sunday at the cathedral. My favourite snack was shoestring chips, hotdog and a Coke. No matter when one would attend Kelekis, you found an acquaintance.
-- Taras Monastyrski
I will share my first personal experience that made me a Kelekis advocate for life. I was around the age of 10. I always loved the chips from Kelekis and saved up Coke bottles so that I could get two cents for each small bottle and five cents for the large bottles. A large bag of chips was 40 cents. After a few days, I had only 39 cents. I could not find any more bottles and really wanted to have some chips. So I went to the window of the Kelekis restaurant and found Evelyn (didn't know her name at that time). I shyly asked her if she could give me 39 cents worth of chips, as I didn't have the 40 cents for the large bag. As a youngster, I didn't know if I could purchase any chips, as I didn't have enough money. To my most pleasant surprise, Evelyn said that she'll give me a large bag. I remember very vividly how I was so excited. I thanked her sheepishly, and since then, the Kelekis family was always special to me. We now live in Vancouver and visit Kelekis every trip back to Winnipeg.
-- Raymond Greenfeld
I am saddened that Winnipeg is losing this iconic restaurant, but I can understand Mary's decision -- all good things come to an end (we lost Valley Flowers on McGregor recently too). The story my mother told me is my dad proposed to her in the little space they had beside the restaurant in 1943. My mother, Pauline Nichols, who grew up in the North End and a longtime resident of West Kildonan, used to always stop in for a hamburger and chips on her visit to the hairdresser on Main Street. My mom will be turning 100 on December 4th and I will be stopping in soon to have a meal and taking a hamburger and chips to her also. Sad to see you go. Good luck and good health, Mary.
-- Barbara Magalas
When I was a kid, my dad would stop the car and pick up fries with vinegar to eat in the car on the way home from tobogganing at Lockport. That was over 55 years ago. I try to visit there each time I come to Winnipeg. I have so many fond memories of eating there. Best fries in the world! Sad to see them close their doors.
-- Deborah Bartlette
One of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood was my dad (a salesman), coming home after my sisters and I were fast asleep in bed being awakened softly by Mom informing us that Dad had just brought home Kelekis french fries!
-- Donna (Legal) Kirsch
For years, I worked at Billy Mosienko Lanes. Every Saturday, Mr. Mosienko would order fresh food from Kelekis for all volunteers (and his staff) helping kids in the bowling programs, and the food was always fresh. I recall one Saturday night involving some disturbances in the North End where it was prudent to "lock down," and I made a call to Kelekis advising that some trouble was heading in that direction. The next time I found myself eating at Kelekis, in addition to words of appreciation for the call, my meal was "on the house." It's not just the Kelekis family that makes the place, but the culture and feel among the patrons. I recall enjoying a meal with my family where a birthday cake was served to another family, and when my young child was spotted, he was included in the serving of cake.
-- Dewar family
In addition to my frequent trips to Winnipeg for business and personal reasons, I traveled through the city for about a dozen consecutive years to fish Manitoba's Northern lakes. After buying out one of the local fishing lure shops and purchasing our food for the week, my Winnipeg friends always took me to Kelekis where I enjoyed the hot dogs and fries and the history of the establishment. It will always be a fond memory of my trips north. Sorry to learn of its passing.
-- Ron Hinckley, Daniel, Utah
Sad news indeed. My dad arrived in Winnipeg from Ontario in 1967 and developed a great love for this city. He was a pharmaceutical representative and spent most of each working day driving from doctor's office to pharmacy to hospital and made many trips to local lunch counters. He loved Kelekis best. We lived in St. James and a visit to see Mary at Kelekis was a great treat. One of the last outings my dad had before entering palliative care at the St. B was to Kelekis. I think one great unfilled ambition of his was to have his photo up on that wall. Our family will be making a little pilgrimage to say goodbye to Mary and enjoy some skinny fries before January 30th. Thanks for all the great memories and all the great food!
-- Pat Jackson
I used to work at Kelekis back in late '90s serving Al Waxman and Izzy Asper on a weekly basis. Leo Mol came in one day and walked up to the photo wall and started smiling. I asked if I could help him, and he just pointed at his picture on the wall, smiled and said "thats me." He died shortly after that, but he came down to the restaurant and made sure he was up on the wall, a moment I'll never forget. Many can say its just a restaurant, but Kelekis is a piece of history, it has remained that way, non-franchised unlike almost every other place, and believe me they had the opportunity, and to say that I'm sad to see it go is an understatement. Mary is an amazing lady and definitely deserves her rest now. The real star of this show is the building itself and everything in it. Truly an entity unto itself.
Oh boy, I wish I could say something nice. I was a teen when I moved to Winnipeg in the '80s and friends said, "Oh, you have to go to Kelekis'! So we went one Friday night. It was big treat, as I didn't have a lot of money as a high school student with a babysitting job. The restaurant was very clean, but the food was mediocre and the staff were miserable. They treated us like dirt -- not one smile or inkling that our business was appreciated; not one kind word. Surprise... I never went back. I thought, "What the hell was that?" and I remember saying to my friends, "If you hate your job so much, why hang in there?" In my family, good food is tied to social times -- it's part of connecting. I have never felt more unwelcome in a Winnipeg restaurant than that time at Kelekis. To this day, I can't see what the big deal was about the place; it mystifies me. I guess if you are feeling too happy, they could level you to a manageable level of misery. Or maybe I visited during a rough patch, but I don't think so -- I've heard similar stories from many others. Nonetheless, I am happy that Mrs. Kelekis can finally retire at age 88. That's a long time to sling hash and be on your feet. I'd likely be cranky too, I suppose.
-- Mirabel D.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 2, 2012 A4
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