Ellice Café was more than a restaurant

Loss of affordable meals, gathering space a blow to West End residents

  • Dylan Hewlett

For the past three years we have lived in an accessible apartment in the West End because both my wife and I are in wheelchairs.

Since we have been here, we have enjoyed going for breakfast at the Ellice Café.

What we enjoyed about the Ellice Café, and about other local restaurants such as the Black Sheep and several ethnic restaurants, was that it gave the West End its multicultural atmosphere — always interesting and always changing.

The Ellice Café was opened in 2005 by Rev. Harry Lehotsky, a Baptist minister from New York City who was a minister with New Life Ministries.

His vision was to provide a welcoming place for “white collar, blue collar, and no collar.”

Harry was inspired after meeting a person in the neighbourhood named Chris who suggested to him that, “it’s hard to comprehend the loneliness felt by people who are working hard to change their lives.”

Not only did the café provide a meeting place for people in the neighbourhood, it provided good food at reasonable prices that were mostly affordable for those on low income.

As such, you would find a full house on Saturdays as people gathered to enjoy the Ellice Café’s good, hearty breakfasts.

The Café also provided local entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights;  it was a great venue for up and coming artists in Winnipeg to perform, which is now lost.

Another unique aspect of the Ellice Café was its volunteers.

Every Saturday, without fail, Marilyn came in to help clear tables, wash dishes and chat with customers about their week, their health or about their plans for the weekend.

For the past two years, the Ellice Café provided a free Christmas dinner to VIP (regular) customers, and all the servers and cooks did their jobs as volunteers.

So it is with sorrow that, despite Harry Lehotsky’s vision, New Life Ministry was no longer able to carry the restaurant and closed its doors on Aug. 24.

The Ellice Theatre, which features second-run movies and rents the space to theatre and dance groups as well as community groups, will remain open until December.

Whenever we went to the Ellice Café for breakfast, many of the regulars like Mary were there, not only for an affordable breakfast, but to socialize with others that they knew in the restaurant.

In fact, many just sat with cups of warm coffee for hours, talking and laughing, and no one asked them to leave.

Where will they go now?

The Ellice Café was more than a restaurant — it was a meeting place for low-income people and students in the area to come and visit, discuss business or just read a book.

What is not yet known is the impact that the closure of the Ellice Café and the closure of the Black Sheep diner nearby will have on the residents of the West End.

There are no other restaurants in the area that provide good, affordable meals.

Stella’s Restaurant is close by, but it is expensive. The Nook on Sherbrook and Wolseley is reasonable and has good food, but is quite far.

Since the Ellice Café closed, we have gone to The Nook, Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s as we can travel easily by wheelchair.

However, we haven’t seen any of the Ellice regulars at any of these restaurants; we believe that they are staying at home.

It is imperative that New Life Ministries attempt to sell the Ellice Café to another like-minded community group that would keep the restaurant going and maintain the most important aspect — a sense of community for West End residents.

Nick and Emily Ternette are residents of McFeetor’s Hall at the University of Winnipeg. Nick is a freelance writer and broadcaster. Emily is involved in a disabled women’s organization and is a freelance writer and activist.

Published in Volume 67, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 19, 2012)

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