Monday, 29 March 2010

Wagon Wheel Rolling Again !

After reading the sad, but expected, news that Winnipeggers simply can't get enough chain restaurants it's nice to see that a local institution is back in the saddle again. The Wagon Wheel reopens today under a third generation of the Mathez family !

Here's a little history I prepared about this Winnipeg institution for my Downtown Places blog .....

WFP Dec 3, 1951
The Wagon Wheel Lunch opened on the main floor of a newly expanded and re-christened Norlyn Building on Monday, December 3, 1951. Not a lot is known about the man / men who started the place. Advertising for the first round of staff asked people to apply in person to W. F. Toy at the Devon Cafe, 311 Carlton. The first proprietor was Jim Dare.

Time Building Fire. Source.
On the evening of June 8th, 1954 the Norlyn Building was nearly destroyed in the Time Building fire, (seen above left, behind the collapsing Dayton / Dismorr Building). The Norlyn's top floors were completely gutted and lower floors had extensive water and smoke damage. In October 1954, however, the lunch counter began hiring again and would reopen by November.

Norlyn Building
In 1958 William Hubert Mathez took over the business. Mathez was a Swiss immigrant who came to Canada in 1927. He worked for the St. Charles Golf and Country Club and the Winter Club before taking over Wagon Wheel Lunch. Mathez died April 6, 1978 at the age of 68. His son, Louis, who had worked at the business since day one, took ever the reigns with his wife Marina.

Under Louis the Wagon Wheel earned a reputation for having the best clubhouse sandwiches in town, (in 2007 Readers Digest
gave it a shout out as the best Clubhouse Sandwich in Canada). An avid sports fan, something he inherited from his father, the restaurant also became a popular spot for both home and visiting sports teams.

In 1994 Marina Mathez died and Louis surprised customers by showing up for work the next morning. He told the Free Press: "This is where I belong. My wife would have wanted me to be here. Besides, when you have a business you have to attend to it. You have to be loyal to your customers even today" (Source: Diner looses it's soul
WFP Feb 19, 1994).

On February 7, 2010 Louis Mathez died at the age of 75 and the Wagon Wheel closed for a time. In March 2010 it was announced that the restaurant would, indeed, reopen with a third generation of Mathez in charge; daughter Jill and son Gary.

Reopening day is Monday, March 29th, 2010.

Hero for the Hungry WFP Mar 1, 2010
Diners in the 'Peg The Uniter Feb 19, 2009
Lunchtime Institution Celebrates 50th WFP May 2, 2008


Unknown said...

was there not a wagon wheel cafe on main street, 604 Main? big round sign outside...shape of a wagon wheel? was there for years...went there as a kid...

Christian Cassidy said...

I think that was the Country Girl restaurant? Lasso and a wagon wheel with a cowgirl in the sign? I didn't come across a second Wagon Wheel, at lest from that family.

Christian Cassidy said...

So, to close the loo on this, there weren't 2 Wagon Wheels. The GOLDEN Wheel Café. It was at 596 Main Street.

The café first appears in the Henderson Directories of 1957 at 596 Main Street, next to the Neon Factory. Prior to that, dating back to at least 1920, it was Castran’s Café run by Angelo Castran.

Golden Wheel was run by the Wong Family. Poy Wong of 335 Alexander Ave was proprietor and Peter Wong the manager lived in an upper floor of the building. It had 60 seats.

In 1963, Albert and Mary Wong of 335 Alexander are listed as the proprietors.

It seems Mr. Wong was running a minor betting shop from the restaurant between (at least) September 1973 and February 1974. He was changed by police and ended up getting a fine of $300.

In March 1974 they put the restaurant up for sale.

It was then the Country Girl restaurant from the later 1970s to at least 1985. I can picture the sing vividly, so it must have hung there for some time after it closed. An image of the front of the business here, ca 1980: http://digitalcollections.lib.umanitoba.ca/islandora/object/uofm%3A2623788 and a picture of the sign here: http://digitalcollections.lib.umanitoba.ca/islandora/object/uofm%3A2805897