‘W e weren’t expecting you yet, you’re gonna have to give us a few minutes,” Linda Frig shouts from a back area where’s she busily cutting chicken breasts, when a reporter arrives early for a scheduled interview at Frig’s Natural Meats & More, her and her husband John’s namesake butcher-and-grocery mart at 3515 Main St. in West St. Paul.

‘W e weren’t expecting you yet, you’re gonna have to give us a few minutes," Linda Frig shouts from a back area where’s she busily cutting chicken breasts, when a reporter arrives early for a scheduled interview at Frig’s Natural Meats & More, her and her husband John’s namesake butcher-and-grocery mart at 3515 Main St. in West St. Paul.

"Take all the time you need," we yell back, opting not to argue with a person wielding a cleaver and sporting a blood-stained smock that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Dexter.

When Linda’s daughter, Michelle Mansell, who had been grinding meat in another part of the store, joins us 10 minutes later, she immediately apologizes for the delay. They lost their full-time butcher a week ago, she explains, which has left them short-handed.

Not that there’s anything particularly new about that; if there is one thing Mansell has learned since her parents founded Frig’s, which, as the "Natural" in the name implies, specializes in ethically raised, chemical- and antibiotic-free goods, 20 years ago, it’s that when it comes to running a small, independent business, "you roll up your sleeves and do what you gotta do."

Describing her mother as Exhibit A, she throws an arm around her shoulders, boasting on her behalf that at the age of 75 she continues to work six days a week at the store, from eight in the morning until six at night. That’s not all; when she’s done carving ribs and packaging ground beef, she heads back to the family farm, about a 40-minute commute, to spend a couple more hours bottle-feeding lambs and calves before turning in for the night.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Frig’s Natural Meats & More on Main Street, just north of the Perimeter Highway, for 20 years.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Frig’s Natural Meats & More on Main Street, just north of the Perimeter Highway, for 20 years.

"Customers are always asking her when she’s going to retire, to which she answers, this is her retirement."


Mansell’s paternal grandparents, Steven and Elizabeth Frig, both hailed from Silverwood, Sask., where their respective parents moved to from Hungary in the mid-1920s as part of Canada’s homesteading initiative, which offered European immigrants free land in remote parts of Western Canada.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Workers process the day’s selection of meats.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Workers process the day’s selection of meats.

In 1950, Steven and Elizabeth, who wed in 1933 and had 12 children, left Silverwood for Manitoba, where they had purchased a 300-acre grain farm north of Petersfield.

John, Mansell’s dad, was born and raised on his parents’ property. As a boy he wasn’t particularly interested in farming, mind you, so as soon as he was old enough, he headed west to Calgary, where he landed work as a carpenter. The Alberta city is also where he met Linda.

The two tied the knot in 1983 and would probably still be living in Calgary, Linda asserts, if it hadn’t been for a tragic farm accident in 1984 that claimed the life of John’s brother Joe.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Frig’s recipes are carefully preserved in a notebook.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Frig’s recipes are carefully preserved in a notebook.

"(Joe) had been doing everything for his parents, pretty much, and after he died, my husband decided we should move to Manitoba, to give his mom and dad a hand," says Linda, who, at the time, was managing a department at Woolco around raising Michelle, their only child.

John and Linda purchased a house in Garden City. He split his time between the farm and construction jobs in the city while she caught on at a nearby Woolco, later Walmart.

Things took a turn when John’s father died in 1988. Unable to manage on her own, his mother announced it was her intention to sell the farm. John said he and Linda would buy it and move there permanently, to ensure it stayed in the family for future generations.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Michelle Mansell, daughter of owners John and Linda Frig, says customers can tell what kind of mood her mother was in that day by the degree of spiciness in the pepperettes. Linda denies the claim.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Michelle Mansell, daughter of owners John and Linda Frig, says customers can tell what kind of mood her mother was in that day by the degree of spiciness in the pepperettes. Linda denies the claim.

"Chickens, it all started with chickens," Mansell says with a chuckle. Anybody who knows her dad, whom she describes as looking like Santa Claus "on a good day" is aware he’s all about eating healthily without spending a fortune. Before long, he was selling their free-range birds to others in the area for little to no profit, a pattern that continued until 2002, when an accountant friend told him about a vacant retail space, the former home of Middlechurch Meats, in a tiny, Main Street strip mall two minutes north of the Perimeter.

"By then we’d added pigs and turkeys to the mix and he had been talking about opening his own butcher shop for a couple years already," Linda pipes in. "But because he was always going on about one pipedream or another, I didn’t pay too much attention, I just let him yammer. Of course, if I’d known 20 years ago what I know now, I would have put the skids on it. I mean, who’s stupid enough to open a store at the age of 55 when they already have a farm to run?"

(Linda doesn’t notice her daughter, standing to the side with a smirk on her face, nodding her head to the left.)

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>These little piggies… are ready for butchering.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

These little piggies… are ready for butchering.


If Mansell has heard it once, she’s heard it a thousand times; how Frig’s Natural Meats wouldn’t have made it past Year 2 without the support of a neighbourhood on the complete other side of Winnipeg.

Her mother never did determine how the store, which also sells a variety of grocery items, many of which are organic, came on their radar, but their most loyal customers early on were almost exclusively from St. Vital, people who would have passed umpteen other grocery stores on their way to West St. Paul.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Frig’s specializes in natural products, such as pork.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Frig’s specializes in natural products, such as pork.

"Obviously, there was a demand for local, naturally-raised meat," Mansell says, "since so many people were willing to drive 45 minutes or whatever out of their way to get here."

Their customer-base has definitely expanded since then, primarily through word of mouth. On the morning we visited, Michelle chatted with a woman who’s been making a twice-a-month trek from Oakbank for a dozen years, and a person from Wolseley who pops in whenever she’s on her way to Selkirk to visit her parents. Also, a fellow who took the Perimeter Highway from Charleswood to get there, became so caught up listening to Linda and Michelle tell their tale, he left his purchase on the counter, only to double back inside after he’d started his car and realized, hey, where were his steaks?

Mansell, a mother of two, was living in Calgary two years ago when her dad called to say Linda had suffered a stroke. She hopped on the next plane to Winnipeg, leaving her husband in charge of their kids, and spent the next six months splitting her time between here and there. Despite having little to no retail experience, and zero butchering skills, she did what she could to help out, not that she didn’t have a ready-and-willing mentor at her side.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Mansell shows off some bacon in the smoker at Frig’s.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mansell shows off some bacon in the smoker at Frig’s.

"Are you kidding?" she says, raising her eyebrows when asked if her mom stayed home during her recovery phase. "I think she missed six days of work, tops. Most of our customers assumed she and Dad had gone somewhere warm, and were like, ‘Linda, did you enjoy your week off?’ the next time they saw her."

After continuing to visit Winnipeg on and off, Michelle decided in December 2020 it was time to "(poop) or get off the pot." She arrived right before the holidays — by then, her son Dallas, now 20, had already made the move, and was assisting his grandparents on the farm — followed by her husband a few months later. Their daughter, 22, remained in Calgary but helps out at Frig’s in the summer and around Christmas.

Michelle describes her present-day role as "learning everything Mom already knows." Additionally, she’s responsible for pre-made meals such as hamburger stew, bison chili and shepherd’s pie that stock a stand-up freezer steps away from the cash register.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Archito Quisumbing, a butcher at Frig’s, breaks down a carcass.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Archito Quisumbing, a butcher at Frig’s, breaks down a carcass.

Another of her "duties" is dispelling the myth that their prices are inordinately higher than what you’d find at large retail chains. Last summer, for example, when sales at Frig’s were down 50 per cent largely owing to road construction, a person on a West St. Paul Facebook group urged area residents to support the store. Somebody shot back sales weren’t slow because one couldn’t access the parking lot, it was "because you have to mortgage your house to shop there."

That was when Michelle entered the conversation, noting she had a a Canadian chain’s flyer on the table in front of her, and not only was Frig’s stewing beef almost a dollar cheaper per pound that week, their chicken breasts were less expensive by almost $1.50 per pound, too.

"It all goes back to my dad’s philosophy about making sure people get good food at a fair price," she says. "Every once in a while I’ll say to Mom we should maybe raise the price of this or that by a dime to keep pace with feeding costs etc. She’ll look at me and say, ‘You’re nothing but a crook!’ and mean it."

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Ossobucco cuts of beef are among the products at Frig’s.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ossobucco cuts of beef are among the products at Frig’s.

The Frigs, who no longer raise chickens but do supply the store with lamb and black angus beef from their farm, don’t have anything special planned for their milestone, 20th anniversary, certainly not a well-deserved getaway.

Mansell says her dad, 75, continually goes on about how he plans to work until he’s 95 "at least," and still talks about opening a second outlet in Winnipeg. As for her mom, well, she already knows precisely what she’s going to do if and when she tires of chopping bacon.

She is originally from England, having lived there till she was 11, and when the day comes, she’s going to park a rocking chair near Frig’s front door, next to a box filled with bones for dogs, and do her best impression of the Queen, by sipping tea and greeting customers, most of whom she knows on a first-name basis.

"I guess it’ll work out OK," her daughter says, preparing to ring in another purchase. "At least if things get crazy, I can always tell her to park her cup and give me a hand."

David Sanderson writes about Winnipeg-centric restaurants and businesses

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.