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One of Forks’ first restaurants shutting doors at end of month

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Muddy Waters may not sound like an appetizing name for a restaurant, but it’s been a favourite at the junction of the two muddy rivers at The Forks for two decades.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/09/2018 (1606 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Muddy Waters may not sound like an appetizing name for a restaurant, but it’s been a favourite at the junction of the two muddy rivers at The Forks for two decades.

The restaurant will close its doors at the end of the month.

“It’s bittersweet for me. It’s 20 years of my life,” said Doug Stephen, one of the partners of WOW Hospitality Concepts, which owns and operates the restaurant.

The restaurant's owners do not plan to reopen Muddy Waters elsewhere. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Muddy Waters was one of the first restaurants at The Forks. Branigans, now The Beachcomber Restaurant, preceded it.

“The building we are in was never intended to be a restaurant. It was a skate shelter. That’s why it had that huge fireplace in it and the floor was all rubber,” Stephen said. “We pitched (to The Forks management) to do this barbecue restaurant at the time and they went for it.”

Twenty years later, The Forks is going in a different direction — and that includes a stiff rent increase, Stephen said.

The Forks, said Stephen, wants to turn the restaurant space into professional offices for engineers or architects. Muddy Waters could stay for the three-and-a-half years left on its lease, but it would have to pay the equivalent of what The Forks could get renting the space as offices, he said.

“I think there’s a desire there to have most of food and beverage contained within the market or in the Johnston Terminal building,” Stephen said.

Also, The Forks wanted a year-round rent, Stephen said. The rent negotiated 20 years ago was for a percentage of Muddy Waters business in winter and a base amount plus percentage in summer, he explained. The restaurant is largely seasonal, with seating for 60 inside and 220 when its two outdoor patios are in use.

Muddy Waters specialized in barbecue and comfort foods. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The Forks has also brought in a new business model with shorter leases and more say in restaurant operations. “They wanted to make sure (a business) is staying current and that it is run by viable operators,” Stephen said.

“So I said, ‘You know what? Give me until the end of September and let us go out in a fashion that says, ‘Thank you, Winnipeg.’”

Muddy Waters was a blues musician and Winnipeg means “muddy waters” in Cree, so the restaurant moniker was a natural at The Forks.

“It incorporated the music genre, it incorporated The Forks and it incorporated Winnipeg.”

It started as Muddy Waters BBQ and Blues and blues musicians would perform there. The opening-night act 20 years ago was the Curtis Newton Band, which is being reassembled for a farewell and thank you to former employees on Sept. 24.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Muddy Waters has been a favourite at The Forks for two decades.

Stephen estimates about 2,500 people have worked at Muddy Waters.

Muddy Waters specialized in barbecue and comfort foods.

“Originally when we opened, we were ahead of our time,” Stephen said. “It was Piedmont Barbecue Sauce from the Carolinas, the red barbecue sauce for ribs from Memphis, the dark, sweet, brown sugar barbecue sauce for brisket from Texas.”

Muddy Waters won’t reopen elsewhere. WOW partners are looking at a restaurant concept of gourmet-style “smash” burgers and spiced-up fried chicken at a new site that can operate year-round at full capacity.

“It’s upsetting for myself and a lot of my staff but it’s the reality of the restaurant business, unfortunately,” general manager Garth Blagden said of the closing.

There are about 10 restaurants at The Forks, including outlets in the food court, The Beachcomber, Old Spaghetti Factory and Pancake House.

Muddy Waters was one of the first restaurants at The Forks. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Thursday, September 6, 2018 11:10 AM CDT: Adds more images.

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