Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/5/2008 (4564 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Open the door at 5:30 a.m. Turn on the lights. Fire up the old grey Garland gas stove. And cook four big turkeys, the meat which of course goes into Louis' signature clubhouse sandwiches.
And today, heading into his 51st year, will be no different.
"I came in here as a young man," Louis says, as he fries up an order of bacon and eggs, sunny side up. "And I'm an old man now. I don't know if I enjoyed the work that much, but this is my life. All my friends are here. They're not just my customers -- they're my friends."
Louis started cooking at the Wagon Wheel on Hargrave Street as a young man of 22, working for his dad William and uncle Louis Chatelain, who both bought the lunch-counter restaurant a short time earlier.
Louis is now 72, and despite a cancer scare last year, he has no plans to slow down.
"I stayed on to make life a little bit easier for my father," the soft-spoken Mathez says. "My dad retired six years later and I was partners with my uncle for 12 years. Of course, that was a hell of a long time ago."
Louis has watched first-hand how Winnipeg's downtown has changed over the years: the loss of the Free Press on nearby Carlton Street and the loss of Eaton's on Portage Avenue just a few years ago.
At the same time, he's seen the building of the MTS Centre and the new Manitoba Hydro building a few doors down.
But the ebb and flow of downtown doesn't matter much to him as long as there are bums in booths at lunch. The diner hasn't changed much either. The old wood-panelled fridge is the same and the bathroom is in another building two doors down, a throwback to an earlier era before health inspectors and zoning clerks took over the world.
"I remember when (former mayor) Glen Murray used to come in. He'd come here and tell me A & B Sound was coming and it would be good. It didn't matter too much. A & B closed."
He also watched how peoples' habits changed, too. Folks don't stop in for coffee anymore. They line up at Tim Hortons instead.
"I don't even consider it part of the business anymore," he says, taking an order of double hamburgers with cheese.
All told, the years have been good for Louis, although it hasn't been easy at times.
He lost his wife Marina of 35 years to cancer in 1994. She was 59. He himself is coming off his own year-long battle with cancer, losing 45 pounds from his already slender frame.
"I'm starting to put it back on," he says, adjusting his white cook's cap. "Thirty to go and I'll be back to normal."
Helping him through it were his children, daughter Jill, a school principal, and son Gary, a city police officer.
Plus he has a good staff, waitresses like Johanna Shaw who've been working at the Wagon Wheel for 30 years.
"I know my job," cracks Johanna, as she pours a cup of coffee. "He doesn't hassle me," she says of Louis. "And I get good tips."
On this day the lunch crowd starts drifting in about 11:00 and by 11:30 there's a lineup waiting for booths or a spot at the counter. By noon the lineup winds outside the front door.
People expecting brisk service are out of luck. Louis cooks everything fresh on the grill or oven. And for those who want their meal cooked with butter, Louis keeps a special stash for those who ask. Otherwise it's low-fat margarine.
"The reason he's been here as long as he has is because this is the best restaurant in Winnipeg," says one regular. "He'll cook it the way you want and he doesn't charge you for it."
Louis has been in the kitchen so long he could do it blindfolded.
His day ends at 6 p.m. when he closes up. Some days he hangs around with his staff just to shoot the breeze.
"I'm not in a hurry to go anywhere," he winks. "I promise I will retire one day."