Arts & Life
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This article was published 11/4/2019 (484 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s all over but the frying.
Kelly Oxelgren isn’t sure what’s been more difficult: keeping up with the increased traffic that resulted from her restaurant 2 Kelly’s Café, 3-81 Garry St., being included in Munch Madness III, or coming up with new, breakfast-related puns every day of the four-week competition, a foodie-fight-to-the-finish that pitted 16 of the city’s top breakfast joints against one another.
"I admit, making my customers listen to me laughing at my own yolks for the last month was probably asking a lot. I enjoyed it, for sure, but I’m not sure they all feel the same way," says Oxelgren, winner of this year’s Munch Madness crown by a slim margin over runner-up WanaBees Diner.
Thanking the Free Press for shining a light on "the local guys, the little people" via Munch Madness, Oxelgren says if anybody deserves credit for her victory, it’s her hard-working staff, in particular Crystal Cave, her kitchen manager for the past 14 years, and her loyal clientele.
"Since Day 1, I’ve always tried to make a connection with my customers, whether it’s their first time here or their 100th," she says.
"Maybe it’s because of those friendships we’ve forged that so many people said they were pulling for us, and making sure to vote every opportunity they could. They told us this was their chance to do something for us, which is silly in a way, because they do something for us every time they show up here, for breakfast or lunch."
Oxelgren says she was overjoyed her co-finalist ended up being Karen Ashley, owner-operator of WanaBees, given their careers have followed similar arcs. Ashley celebrated the 25th anniversary of her locale last year, while Oxelgren says it’s been 25 years since she started waiting tables — "I was 19 and pregnant" — at Kronen’s, 2 Kelly’s predecessor.
"I was the funny, quirky waitress who ended up buying the place, 11 years after stepping foot in here the first time. And I know Karen is super hands-on, too.
"In fact, last Thursday after the two of us were the only ones left, I messaged her, saying, ‘Hey, it’s so cool we’re both still here, in this thing,’ and that we should hook up for a shot of tequila, when it’s all said and done. That would be kind of nice, don’t you think?"
We have some bad news for the loyal legion of regulars who chow down at WanaBees Diner on a weekly, in some cases daily, basis.
"When this whole thing started, I told my customers I didn’t even want to be in it, that I’m busy enough," says WanaBees owner Karen Ashley, a blur of activity as she checks a pair of sunny side up eggs cooking on the grill, while pouring syrup over a plate of pancakes.
"They all encouraged me to enter, saying I deserved the recognition, so I told them I’d do it on one condition: if I lose the prices are going up, because it’s their fault they didn’t vote often enough. So losing to Kelly is actually a win-win for me."
Because she’s WanaBees "head Chef Boy-ar-dee," Ashley rarely gets a chance to look up, never mind notice whether any fresh faces have chowed down there since the contest’s start, last month.
"I know there have been a few newbies — true wannabes, I call them — because I’ve heard comments like they’ve driven by this place a million times and always wondered what was going on inside, and finally decided to poke their head in and see for themselves, because they read about us in the paper."
Like Oxelgren, Ashley says it’s her customers, not her, who deserve platitudes for her strong showing.
"I have the best customers, I really do. A lot of them feel like family friends, in fact," she says. "They’ve been through it all with me; I started here when I was single; I got married, had two kids, got divorced… it’s been quite the ride.
"Mind you, if I’m still here 25 years from now, you have my permission to shoot me."
In the end, thanks to the thousands of people who took the time to vote in our breakfast competition, as well as to everybody who left comments online, or emailed me directly to tip us off about places we might have missed this time around.
We’ll be back next March with another competition. As always, thanks for reading.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
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