October 21, 2020

Winnipeg
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Habit

Big Rick's Hot Rod Diner / Chalmers

Writer Christopher Hitchens used to say you can't make old friends, so hang onto the ones you have.

It's like that with small neighbourhood diners. There are only a few left, so patronize the one you've got before they're gone.

There used to be a half-dozen small diners in the area, but Big Rick’s Hot Rod Diner is the only one left, says its owner.

There used to be a half-dozen small diners in the area, but Big Rick’s Hot Rod Diner is the only one left, says its owner.

Big Rick's Hot Rod Diner on Henderson Highway is such a place.

"It's kind of sad all the places that have disappeared. There used to be from six to eight in the neighbourhood. Now I'm the last one standing," says owner-chef Rick Wareham.

Big Rick is, somewhat disappointingly, regular-sized in the flesh. He just used the prefix "Big" because when he went to register the name, Rick's was already taken.

So it kind of follows that when a big — really big — regular customer with a shaved head walks in, everybody calls him Tiny. It's that kind of place.

Rick Wareham has been running Big Rick's for about 32 years.

Rick Wareham has been running Big Rick's for about 32 years.

This is a place with a lot of regulars.

Pete Sanderson is one of them, a retired businessman who lives nearby and eats here once a week. "These are great places for neighbourhood people to meet and socialize," he says.

But property taxes and stricter health and safety regulations are pushing out small independent owners, Sanderson says.

"These are great places for neighbourhood people to meet and socialize." –Pete Sanderson

The Hot Rod part of the name comes from Wareham's former job in auto body work and his hobby, fixing classic cars. Motorcycle and classic-car buffs hang out here.

They're not "biker" bikers but people sometimes take it that way when they see Harley-Davidson motorcycles parked outside, Wareham says.

The walls are adorned with car-related memorabilia: hubcaps, licence plates and traffic signs. And you can always catch a glimpse of yourself in one of the many chrome parts.

The interior of Big Rick’s Hot Rod Diner is covered in various car-related memorabilia, but some items stand out that give you a good idea of Rick's sense of humour.

The interior of Big Rick’s Hot Rod Diner is covered in various car-related memorabilia, but some items stand out that give you a good idea of Rick's sense of humour.

Siggi Klann has a bushy white steamboat moustache that would win Mark Twain's approval. He eats at Big Rick's every morning and sometimes at lunch, too.

What keeps Klann coming back? "The company of people. The regulars." He's a motorcycle enthusiast, especially bikes made by Indian Motorcycle Co.

"You get to know people and you help each other out if you need a hand, like moving heavy stuff," Klann says.

Owner Rick Wareham takes Siggi Klann's order.

Owner Rick Wareham takes Siggi Klann's order.

People will talk and trade car and motorcycle parts, and sell cars and hot rods to each other, he says. "And we talk about world problems, too, but it's mostly about cars."

It's a place where, if Rick's busy, a customer will grab a coffee pot and refill everyone's cup.

Wareham and his customers bowl together next door at Roxy Lanes. A regular customer's mother recently turned 80 and he was invited to the party.

Wareham is 61 now. Is he thinking of retirement? "It depends on the day," he says, adding he thinks he's still got a couple of years left.

— Bill Redekop
Photography by Mike Deal

hors d'oeuvre
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Dessert
Nightcap

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