You know them and love them.
We sing their jingles because we grew up with them on the radio. Our parents went there on their first date. And our families have relied on them for generations. These are the iconic businesses in Winnipeg.
We don’t often realize it, but many of the city's most iconic businesses blend into our day-to-day lives in ways that we don’t anticipate and often don’t realize.
Whether you’re a lifelong Winnipegger or brand new to the city, odds are you’ve encountered at least one of these 10 iconic businesses.
1. Jeanne’s Bakery
(rows of the famous ‘Jeanne’s Cakes’)
Founded in the 1930’s by Jeanne Van Landeghem, this iconic downtown Winnipeg bakery has been helping generations of locals celebrate their special occasions.
Early on, Jeanne's cakes and dainties became wildly popular, and in 1939 she was asked to supply them for the royal tour of Canada, featuring King George and Queen Elizabeth. The royal couple was so impressed that Jeanne was "granted the privilege of becoming purveyors to royal visitors at Government House," according to Jeanne's Bakery.
These iconic cakes with their shortbread cookie crust and chocolate shavings on the sides have also been enjoyed by the likes of Monty Hall and Jennifer Lopez and, of course, virtually every Winnipegger to celebrate a birthday or special occasion.
However, being an icon isn’t always easy. Owner Jerry Stubbs states, “customers feel like Jeanne’s products are their products… they visit us from out of town and have vivid memories of coming to buy a cake as a kid.”
He admits that meeting such high nostalgic expectations is a challenge, but it’s something that they strive for with every cake that they make because, as their slogan goes, “Jeanne’s is more than a cake; it’s memories.”
2. Into the Music
Into the Music has been providing Winnipeggers with the best second-hand music experience that money can buy since 1987. The store first opened on Corydon Avenue and managed to accrue a staggering collection of vinyl LPs and EPs during the 1990’s when people began dumping their collections for CDs.
In 1999, the store was nominated and awarded Best Retail Store from the Prairie Music Awards, but it hasn’t stopped growing. In fact, thanks to a resurgence in vinyl collecting the store has been thriving with both online and in-person shopping experiences.
In addition to fueling the surge in vinyl collection, Into the Music also hosts a series of fundraisers and small, intimate shows.
Most recently, in August of 2016, they hosted a fundraiser show for the Canadian Hearing Society that was organized by Winnipeg-based rapper Daily, who was born deaf and wasn’t able to hear until the age of 3 due to surgical implants.
3. Poulin’s Pest Control
(a vintage photo of Napoleon Poulin and his son, Don)
Founded in 1946, Poulin’s Pest Control was founded by Napoleon Poulin, a man who, according to his son, Don Poulin was fond of saying, “I’ve got a great nose, and if there’s a bedbug nearby I can smell them!”
Since then, the Winnipeg-based company has expanded into Alberta and Saskatchewan, and has become Western Canada’s largest privately owned pest control company. Don, who currently runs the company with the help of his son Lincoln Poulin, attributes their success to a deep understanding of pests and how they behave in different environments.
“We treat an old building with rats differently than a new home with bedbugs because they are different. It’s this understanding that sets us apart from our competitors and has kept us in business so long.”
4. Baked Expectations
A trip to Osborne Village isn’t complete without a slice of decadent Shmoo from this iconic local bakery. It’s easy to spot — if you somehow manage to miss their retro-style signage, then their wall of windows peeking into a 50’s chic dining room will be sure to grab your attention.
This local staple has been helping residents of Winnipeg celebrate special occasions, first dates and many more special occassions for years. Many Winnipeggers remember birthdays and anniversaries spent in the glow of the iconic red signage, which has graced Osborne Street for over 30 years.
Interestingly enough, the bakery opened at a time when it wasn’t trendy to serve up a wide array of desserts, but owner Beth Grubert’s tenacity and dedication to creating incredible desserts (and showcasing them in an eye-catching glass display) has paid off in spades. Even as cakes and sweets have grown in popularity over the years, Grubert states that “people still go crazy” whenever they look at their dessert counter.
For anyone wondering why the dazzlingly popular restaurant hasn’t tried to expand and open up other locations throughout the city, the answer is simple: Grubert worries that the magic of the original location won’t travel. There’s certainly something about this diner-style sweets shop, in this exact location as you see passerby's through the windows, that has captured the imagination of every Winnipegger, young and old.
5. Rudy’s Auto Service
“My mom taught my dad to fix cars” states Rudy Jr., son of Esther and Rudy Sr. and current owner of Rudy’s Auto Service.
“She bought books on auto repair and read them in German to my dad. And they opened the business after they started getting complaints from the neighbours about cars in the yard.”
Since 1969 when Rudy’s Auto Service first took over the Hudson’s Bay Company delivery stable on Erin St., the business has been helping Winnipeg motorists stay safe on the road.
“Many of the families we work with have been our customers for three generations, which is really amazing” says Rudy Jr. “Our work is all about relationship building, after all.”
6. J.M. Balcaen & Sons
(A vintage of the photo of J.M. Balcaen & Sons fleet)
Over 70 years ago Jack and Kay Balcaen founded Balcaen & Sons with a single vehicle and operating out of a two-storey home located on a dirt road. Since then the business has grown to include three generations of family members who have dedicated themselves to providing exceptional heating, cooling and plumbing services.
Longtime Winnipeg residents may recognize this iconic business from the “flood of the century” in 1997, when their dedicated efforts helped save 450 homes from being destroyed due to record flooding.
7. Rae & Jerry’s Steak House
For many Winnipeggers, Rae & Jerry’s has long stood as a symbol of style and quality which harkens back to a classier bygone era.
“I’ve been smart enough to leave the restaurant and the name alone,” says Steve Hrousalas who purchased the restaurant from the original owners, Johnny Rae and Jerry Hemsworth, in 1975.
Hrousalas explained how busy it can be running the restaurant all these years, and how the original Rae knew the amount of effort required to make this landmark business such a success.
“When I first met Johnny and Jerry, Johnny said to me ‘how’s your golf handicap?’ and I said ‘terrible.’” He laughs, “and Johnny Rae said ‘good, because if your golf handicap comes down you’re spending too much time at the course and not enough at the restaurant.’ Needless to say, my handicap hasn’t gotten any better.”
8. Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club
Arguably one of the city’s hidden gems, Times Change(d) looks unassuming from the exterior, but the moment you walk in your senses are overwhelmed, as the tiny space is jam-packed full of old posters, Christmas lights, Bob Marley flags and the iconic “housecoat wall.”
This sensory load is amplified when the musicians start playing. Whether it’s jamming along with Big Dave Mclean on a Sunday night or discovering an obscure out-of-town gem, you can always count on Times Change(d) to be packed like a sardine can and bumpin’ all night.
After a devastating car crash in 2014, which essentially obliterated the front entrance of the venue, many customers worried that the venue would close its doors for good. However, in true Winnipeg style they reopened just a few days later, funneling customers in through the side door for some of the best local music available until the front of the venue could be repaired.
9. Mrs. Mikes
This Tache Ave fixture has been satisfying our cravings for all things deep-fried and delicious since the early 60’s, but it wasn’t until Nick Mikos (an immigrant from Greece) purchased the business in 1969 that it really began to take off.
Since then, the burger joint has become a staple for many Winnipeggers, including earning a “Best Burger in Town” nomination from the Winnipeg Free Press. And in 2014, Mrs. Mikes was named one of Canada’s 8 Great Burger Joints by Reader’s Digest.
The burgers always exceeded expectations, but it was the relationship that Nick developed with his customers that created such a lasting impression and kept them coming back year after year. When he died in 2012, many longtime customers expressed deep sorrow over his passing, stating that they “had lost a friend.”
Like many iconic local businesses, expat Winnipeggers often visit the restaurant while in town, and frequently order burgers to go on their way to the airport — not to eat, mind you, but to take home and freeze for a tasty nostalgic treat.
10. Bridge Drive-In (BDI)
Summer in Winnipeg just doesn’t feel complete without a trip to the Bridge Drive-In, or “BDI,” to enjoy one of their many assortments of sodas, shakes and specialty items like the "Goog" and the “Canterberry.”
According to Justin Jacob, who co-owns the business with his wife whose grandparents bought it in 1974, summers are about to get a lot cooler. They have set up a “Goog To Go” food truck that will make appearances at events and stops throughout the city, partnering with local restaurants and businesses to create custom frozen creations. Follow them on Twitter to find out where the Goog To Go will be hanging out next!
Have we missed any of your favourite iconic Winnipeg businesses? Tell us in the comments.
Now check out these 10 iconic travel and tourism-related businesses in Manitoba. How many have you visited?
About the Author
Alyson is a Winnipeg writer, content marketer and social media manager. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric & Communications from the University of Winnipeg and runs her own business providing businesses and individuals with their copywriting, content marketing strategy and social media needs. She lives and breathes digital culture and has been nicknamed the "Queen of the Internet" by her Twitter followers. When not online she can be found gardening, riding her bike or sipping fancy coffee.Follow on Twitter More Content by Alyson Shane