Historically modern

New restaurant opens with same name and location as restaurant from the 1920s

Century-old receipts from the original Modern Electric Lunch restaurant in the Fortune Block at 230 Main St. 

On Nov. 16, Modern Electric Lunch, a new coffee bar and restaurant, opened its doors to the public in the historical Fortune Block at 230 Main St. The restaurant takes its name from a restaurant that operated out of the same space in the 1920s and ’30s, which boasted the first electric refrigerator in a Winnipeg restaurant. 

In 2014, the previous owner intended to demolish the 138-year-old building, which is also the home to the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, and build a condo block, but the city reinstated its heritage status. When the Pollard family bought the building, they lovingly restored its distinctive High Victorian Italianate style and unique architectural features.

“What the Pollards achieved by preserving Winnipeg’s heritage is noteworthy and admirable, in turn allowing for Modern Electric Lunch to be reborn once again,” Manitoba Historical Society CEO Tracey Turner says. “As a community, we cannot take for granted that our history or heritage will be preserved or honoured by default by our elected officials or policy.”

The renovations uncovered a lot of interesting details in the building. “One cool discovery they made while renovating was a bunch of receipts from the 1920s with things written in pencil, like “coffee 30 cents, a slice of pie, 25 cents,” restaurant spokesperson Benjamin Gillies says. 

A selection of these receipts have been framed and mounted on the wall, including several for “boiled onion,” which, unfortunately, is not on the current Modern Electric Lunch menu. Currently, they are open with a full-service coffee bar and lunch items for takeout. You can order through their website to pick up in the restaurant or order delivery through Skip The Dishes. 

Until the restrictions are lifted, no dine-in service is available for breakfast, lunch or after-work dinner and drinks. When customers are able to dine inside, they can think “‘a person was sitting in this exact same space (100 years ago), ordering a coffee and a slice of pie, just like I’m ordering a coffee and a slice of cake,’” Gillies says.

Maximizing the use of space like Modern Electric Lunch has, is not only a good business decision, but it also has positive ramifications for our city’s culture and the environment.

“Adaptive reuse for historic buildings like the Fortune Block should be our city’s default option. This is important, as historic building reuse represents a commitment to a sustainable and inherently green practice, which encourages economic growth and helps to stimulate and build dynamic downtown communities,” Turner says. 

“One only has to look at the recent and tragic (demolition) of the gorgeous estate at 514 Wellington to understand the tenuous nature of what happens to a historic resource or building, should it be removed from the municipally designated historic resources list.”

Even with the restrictions in place, Winnipeggers have stepped up to support the new downtown restaurant. 

“We were pretty uncertain of what it would be like to open during the pandemic under Code Red restrictions, but the response from the community was amazing. People were coming out. People were excited to check out the space. People were really responding,” Gillies says.

“It exceeded our expectations in terms of feeling the love and support of the people who came to check us out.”

Modern Electric Lunch can be found in the Fortune Block at 232 Main St. You can order coffee or food to go inside the restaurant, in-store pickup from melunch.ca and delivery from Skip the Dishes.

Published in Volume 75, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 7, 2021)

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