Despite its meme-laden aesthetic, South Osborne’s Hoagie Boyz restaurant creates unironically delicious classic Italian subs that are simultaneously approachable and extravagant.
The restaurant’s foundation was laid in 2020 when cousins Nyk Bielak and Stefan Lytwyn uttered the phrase: ‘wouldn’t it be funny if we ...’
From there, the two started Kosmo’s Space Cowboy Food Cantina, a ghost kitchen that served comfort foods like burgers, fried chicken and mac and cheese. As a ghost kitchen, Kosmo’s focused on online orders, which were prepared in the German Society of Winnipeg’s North End kitchen.
“We started making burgers because there was nothing else to do,” Bielak says.
It was while making burgers in the basement of the German club that Bielak and Lytwyn brought in Jesse Angers to cook alongside them. Lytwyn and Angers had previously worked together at Deer + Almond. Through Kosmo’s, the team developed their definitive, bordering-on-absurd approach to food.
“It’s like an inside joke that everyone is on the inside of ... is that how it works?” Angers says. “It’s how we act around each other. It comes really naturally.”
During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kosmo’s built up a following, but the challenges of having to work with food-delivery apps left the trio looking for a physical storefront.
In early 2022, they found a building. By the summer, they opened as Hoagie Boyz, reorienting their cooking away from burgers and toward Italian submarine sandwiches.
“We always dreamed of being able to see faces and see those people we were chatting with online,” Bielak says.
From the building’s exterior depicting a donkey dragging a sub to the interior filled with art seemingly pulled straight from Shutterstock, Bielak says the storefront at 513 Osborne St. is an opportunity to see the team’s “personalities manifest.”
“For the longest time, we didn’t have a sign. It was just a donkey carrying a sandwich,” he says.
“We got a great view of the cemetery,” Lytwyn jokes.
Hoagie Boyz’s ironic, chronically online presentation is an ideal gateway into their down-to-earth food with unconventional twists.
“We wanted a place where the food is taken very seriously, but it’s approachable for my dad to come,” Bielak says.
The food at Hoagie Boyz fits a niche between the comfort of chain restaurants and the bold choices of higher-end dining.
“Winnipeg will always be a blue-collar town, and that’s how we see ourselves – as a blue-collar restaurant that’s a little off the beaten path,” Lytwyn says.
The menu at Hoagie Boyz reads like it was written by a stoner with descriptions such as “good-ass ham,” “$69 bong water” and “an insane amount of iceberg lettuce.” This approach lends to the core of the restaurant, creating a space for sharing quality food anyone can enjoy.
“We wanted to make a restaurant we would want to go to. It’s kinda like Cheers, where everybody knows your name,” Lytwyn says.
Hoagie Boyz’ abrasive presentation may initially turn some away, but when combined with an inviting atmosphere and inventive takes on classic Italian subs, it makes a restaurant worth a look.
As Lytwyn says, “We were never really afraid to take risks. The whole thing was born out of one big risk.”
Published in Volume 77, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 2, 2023)