Every neighbourhood goes through its ups and downs — longtime businesses shutter or move on, new names set up shop, old buildings come down, new buildings rise.
The South Osborne area of Winnipeg is no different, and if the wide range of new/newish businesses is any indication, particularly in the way of food and drink, the area is, to paraphrase the Friendly Giant, up — waaaaay up.
South Osborne BIZ chair Scott Tackaberry, owner of two South Osborne businesses — home brewing supply store Grape & Grain at 726 Osborne St. and tabletop game store GameKnight Games at 519 Osborne St. — sees the area’s evolution as one that’s been coming for some time. "It’s been a slow burn that’s been happening for 20 years," says Tackaberry, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 20-plus years himself. "When we bought our house, we were probably the only younger people on the block. Now the older folks are retiring and moving out of the neighbourhood, and the younger families are moving in. And of course the younger families want to shop in the neighbourhood."
According to census data, the bulk of residents are between 20 and 40 years old and the area’s population increased by 1.5 per cent between 2011 and 2016.
In recent years South Osborne has seen an uptick in the number of new culinary options. Alpine-themed eatery/wine bar the Oxbow, charming coffee shop Little Sister, and tasty to-go options at Black Market Provisions are among those who have joined longstanding neighbourhood favourites such as Monticchio, Clubhouse Pizza, Marigold and Jade Inn, as well as hotspots such as Vera, BMC Market and beyond.
With a nod to the past and an eye on the future, the Osborne Street south strip seems headed in the right direction for years to come — much to the delight of area residents.
"I love this neighbourhood," says Tackaberry. "I can’t live anywhere else now. I just can’t."
Established in 1946, Park Alleys has been a community hub for area residents for decades. And now, thanks to a major facelift and owners with a vision to bring food, music, bowling, pinball and more all under one roof, it looks set to remain an area mainstay for years to come.
Located at 730 Osborne St., when Park Alleys reopens at the end of August, visitors will be bowled over by the changes, which include the addition of a stage for live music, a nine-metre-long bar and a seating area (including a patio) for up to 100 people to grab a bite to eat. Gone are the claustrophobic t-bar drop ceilings, revealing a hand-painted, art deco-style design, and the walls sport graffiti-style murals painted by local artist Sid Bellinger.
Park Alleys’ transformation was the brainchild of Tod Hughes, who moved back to Winnipeg in late 2019 with wife Laura after working in commercial real estate in Calgary for 27 years. "Laura grew up in this area — she grew up on Ashland," says Hughes. "There’s a lot of history with the bowling alley. Her mother used to bowl here; everybody we know used to bowl here."
Hughes purchased Park Alleys shortly after moving back to Winnipeg, with a plan to reopen in October 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic saw that plan delayed, offering more time for Hughes to refine his vision for the space. "I’m also a musician. I thought it’d be fun to try and do something with bowling and live music," he explains. After researching other bowling alley/music venue combinations in North America, Hughes eventually decided to sacrifice two of the eight bowling lanes to make room for the stage, which will host live music Thursdays through Sundays.
Park Alleys was in rough shape when Hughes took over. Beyond a mess of wires hiding behind the drop ceiling, there was a host of other problems that required immediate attention.
"We had a river running through the basement that we couldn’t stop," says Hughes. "We had to redo the foundation, dig down and waterproof things, put in weeping tile."
"We’re in Fort Rouge, and we’re in a bowling alley, so we want pricing to be accessible." – Park Alleys owner Tod Hughes
The other main expense involved in renovating the space was the addition of a kitchen. Rather than stick with standard bowling alley fare, Park Alleys’ menu will include shareables such as nachos, spinach and artichoke dip, and wings, as well as salads, a range of sandwiches, pizzas and desserts. Drink offerings from the bar, meanwhile, will include local craft and domestic beer on tap and in cans, along with cocktails, wine and more.
"We’re in Fort Rouge, and we’re in a bowling alley, so we want pricing to be accessible," Hughes says of the food and drink options. "We’ll have our house beer for $2.75 every day until three o’clock. We’ll have a special that’s on all the time where you get a hot dog, homemade fries and a beer for $10."
Staffing for the restaurant has been another tricky area for Park Alleys, says manager Jamie Monck. "Everybody in the industry is looking for staff… a lot of people left the industry to find stable employment elsewhere (during the pandemic lockdowns). And there’s all these restaurants opening back up — they’re busier than ever with the extended patios. The competition for hiring staff has never been higher, and the workforce is small."
And while the mechanics of the bowling lanes themselves are quite old, that has actually proven to be beneficial. "We have a really good guy, Edward at JD Bowling Parts & Service, who does all the bowling alleys," Hughes says. "He said this system is way less maintenance than the new systems. It’s an old-school electric motor with a pulley, and some strings that pull the pins up. It’s not fancy, but way more reliable and not that complicated to repair."
Area residents are already eager to get back into Park Alleys, says Hughes. "We could open that door and we’d have 10 people walk in before noon. The people in the neighbourhood are really excited about it… I was contacted the other day by a guy who worked here as a pin setter as a kid. He must have been 90 years old."
Bowling, music and food in one space, all at once, will be a first for Winnipeg, but Hughes and his team are cautiously optimistic the concept will be embraced.
"What’s it like to have people playing music next to people bowling? We haven’t figured it out yet," says Hughes. "Some people think it’s crazy. But we’re going to be flexible to what works."
Scott Tackaberry has sinister plans — namely, to open the first brewery on Osborne Street and make it Winnipeg’s smallest.
Tackaberry is aiming to open Dastardly Villain Brewing Co. at 726 Osborne St., the home of his home-brewing retail operation Grape & Grain, in summer 2022. Plans are in the works for a taproom to go along with the nanobrewery, which is a much smaller version of what you’d see at any local craft brewery.
Dastardly Villain’s first commercial release, the Nefarious Plan A yellow ale, was launched earlier in August; the cream ale-style beer was brewed at Torque Brewing Co.’s King Edward Street facility, and is available at Liquor Marts and beer vendors, as well as from Torque. Future Dastardly Villain releases will include a brown ale, red ale, stout and New England IPA.
"We’re going to just start with some of the classics," he explains, part of the rationale for his motto of crafting "beer flavoured beer."
Tackaberry has long had a passion for brewing. A certified beer judge and avid home brewer, he opened Grape & Grain on St. Anne’s Road in 1995, and after a couple of moves ended up on Osborne Street in 2009.
Home brewing wasn’t Tackaberry’s only passion, and it wasn’t long before he decided to roll the dice on another venture. "A friend asked me ‘What would you do if money was no object — what would you do every day?’" he recalls. "I said I’d love to sell Dungeons & Dragons books. I don’t care if I ever made a cent out of it." From there, GameKnight Games was born, with the shop’s sales outpacing Grape & Grain’s at times. And while both were under the same roof for a time, GameKnight’s success has seen it relocate up the street to 519 Osborne St.
“The success of the game store is going to allow me to do Dastardly Villain. At some point I wouldn’t mind opening a small café there. And if I can get it licensed, it will sell beer that we brew here… I could make a Dungeons & Dragons beer.” – Scott Tackaberry
Since opening Grape & Grain, Tackaberry has had aspirations to make the jump to brewing beer commercially, citing the success of home brewers such as Andrew Sookram at Sookram’s Brewing Co., Dave Rudge of Half Pints Brewing Co. and others as inspiration. And while he’s had to wait years for his plans to come to fruition, getting into the game now is far easier than it would have been in 1995, especially with the opportunity to contract brew at an established brewery such as Torque.
Instead of planning a sprawling brewery for Dastardly Villain, whose cans sport bad guy/steampunk-inspired packaging, Tackaberry opted to go in the other direction — the nanobrewery’s five-barrel (600 litre) brewing system will be the smallest in the city. "I was doing a little bit of soul searching, speaking to Matt Wolff over at Torque. I said I’d love to enter the beer market... and Matt said, ‘Have you ever looked at the micro scene? Look at Sookram’s — Andrew’s just rocking it over there.’"
Until the nanobrewery can open, Tackaberry plans to continue brewing at Torque in order to grow the Dastardly Villain brand and maintain consistent inventory in stores. "Torque is going to be brewing the beer to keep it in the Liquor Marts, the beer stores, help spread it across the province with distribution at a level I can’t do here," Tackaberry explains.
For now, Tackaberry’s happy to continue his evil scheming for Dastardly Villain’s world domination while running both Grape & Grain and GameKnight. He’s been tweaking beer recipes, some of which evolved from his popular "Scotty’s Beer Kits" home-brewing packages, and keeping tabs on (read: tasting) the competition. "We’re still prototyping, looking at where there’s room for improvement," he says.
Beyond Dastardly Villain, Tackaberry has plenty of plans for his South Osborne businesses. "The success of the game store is going to allow me to do Dastardly Villain. At some point I wouldn’t mind opening a small café there. And if I can get it licensed, it will sell beer that we brew here… I could make a Dungeons & Dragons beer."
Tabula Rasa is a clean slate in more ways than one.
The dark, moody interiors of restaurants past have been replaced with sky blue walls, air plants embedded in exposed brick and colourful kitsch adorning the entryway. The new eatery at the corner of Osborne and Beresford is also an esthetic and culinary departure from Sous Sol, its basement-dwelling sister site up the road near Confusion Corner.
"The name itself means ‘a clean slate,’ a fresh start and that’s what it is," says owner Erik Thordarson. "Not that we don’t love the other restaurant, but we get bored easily."
Where Sous Sol is decidedly French, Tabula Rasa’s menu, the brainchild of head chef Kurt Kolbe, is made up of fish-forward shareable plates with Mediterranean influences. The current lineup features dishes with locally caught fish, such as smoked goldeye fritters, pickerel cheek escabeche and barbecued silver bass.
"We’re only going to try to continue perfecting it," Kolbe says of the menu. "We’d like to keep changing a good portion of the menu every month."
After more than a year of construction and pandemic-related roadblocks, the restaurant hosted its first dinner service earlier this month. Lunch hours will be added in the fall and there’s seating for roughly 75 people (with social distancing) between the dining room and newly constructed patio. A forthcoming cocktail bar — with an on-brand "grand, over-the-top" cocktail program — will add an extra 40 seats.
“It’s a dream location. It’s so neighbourhood driven; we’ve had countless people peeking through the window and coming in just to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’” – Erik Thordarson
Tabula Rasa is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5 to 11 p.m.
Thordarson and business partner Michael Schafer have had their eye on the space since Bistro 7 1/4 vacated the location at 725 Osborne St. in 2015 — the corner later became home to Blind Tiger, a coffee shop and speakeasy, and a failed expansion of the Hermanos steakhouse brand, which closed in 2019.
"It’s a dream location," Thordarson says. "It’s so neighbourhood driven; we’ve had countless people peeking through the window and coming in just to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’"
Having operated a restaurant in Osborne Village for the last six years, Thordarson is keenly aware of the declining bustle along the street’s northern strip and the simultaneous business boom happening several blocks to the south — though he’s convinced the Village is on the upswing again. It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly is driving the surge of new dining options in South Osborne, but he believes the surrounding residential areas — and a plethora of parking options — have something to do with it.
"There are so many people living in the Village, but this is maybe a little bit more of a community at this point," Thordarson says, adding that he’s excited to be surrounded by other eateries. "I think what’s good for the goose is good for the gander… it’s perfect to have (places) where we can bounce business off each other."
"If people are coming here and they see us full, they’re going to go down to Oxbow," adds Kolbe. "Or if there’s a show at the Park Theatre they can come here before — it’s more of an entertainment district."
Beatriz Marivel Calderón-Villaseñor sees her new neighbours in a similar light — as players on the same team, rather than rivals.
"I don’t see them as competition, we support each other," says the owner of BMC Market. "We have very different things that we do and we complement the community… it’s different kinds of foods for different kinds of budgets."
Calderón-Villaseñor has been making tacos and selling Mexican groceries out of a storefront at 722 Osborne St. for the last 11 years. When BMC first opened, Osborne Village was the undisputed hotspot for local shopping and dining; little by little, however, she’s watched an equally vibrant business hub crop up in South Osborne.
The neighbourhood’s rise has only accelerated during the pandemic, with new tenants filling previously vacant spaces and longtime establishments, like BMC, sprucing up their exteriors with paint and patios.
"I think for everybody it was like a frozen time and now we are trying to catch up," Calderón-Villaseñor says. "Hopefully, now everybody will be ready to start all over again."
Erick Casselman, owner of the Park Theatre, has been in the throes of renovations for the last several years, taking the pandemic closure as an opportunity to knock down the wall separating the venue’s stage and lobby. When the venue reopens to the public in late September, capacity will be at 700 people, more than double its previous occupancy limits.
It’s an expansion Casselman has been dreaming about since purchasing the former movie theatre in 2005.
"I think it’s going to be great for the neighbourhood," he says. "We’re kind of a feeder place… people will come to the neighbourhood beforehand for some drinks and some food and then come to a show."
"With new generations, they’re always trying to build the kind of place that they can claim as their own… I think that’s what we’re seeing here." – Erick Casselman
Casselman has lived near South Osborne for 30 years and, as a resident, is relishing the recent arrival of so many new people and businesses in the area.
"There’s an influx of new blood coming in and then people are seeing the strengths (of the neighbourhood) — rent is affordable down here for commercial properties," he says. "With new generations, they’re always trying to build the kind of place that they can claim as their own… I think that’s what we’re seeing here."
Despite the shifting demographics, the newbies don’t appear to be pushing out the old standards — places like Marigold and the Jade Inn have each been slinging food for more than 50 years. South Osborne veteran Mike Di Fonte, owner and head chef of Monticchio Ristorante Italiano, is unfazed by the new faces and storefronts popping up around him.
"I’ve seen a lot of changes and I’m happy in this area," says Di Fonte, who has been running the 40-year-old Italian restaurant for 25 years.
Many shops have come and gone during his tenure and he believes the new businesses are making the district more attractive and the neighbourhood safer. "There’s a lot more walking; before I never used to see too many people out walking," he says.
Di Fonte is equally unfazed by the shiny new food and drink offerings. He won’t be changing his menu anytime soon to keep up with the Joneses.
"My food is fresh and I’ve been open a long time, so I don’t think some new place will hurt me," he says. "If I do the right stuff, why do I need to be scared?"
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.