We may be on the brink of 2023, but the 50s are coming back to Winnipeg.
Peek through the windows at 2615 Portage Avenue and you’ll see red-and-white-striped chairs stacked on black-and-white checkered floors. A pink bubblegum piano stands near the ice cream counter. A neon sign that says “Dreamland Diner” bounces against the pale blue wall.
“I’ve always, always, always wanted to go to diner,” said Ravi Ramberran, 39. “(A) classic ’50s diner — milkshakes and ice cream and hotdogs and fries.”
He fulfills his wish.
Dreamland Diner needs staff and an outdoor sign. Otherwise, it’s almost ready for business.
“I wish I had a jukebox, but I can’t find a real, proper look for less than $10,000,” Ramberran said while walking around his new eatery Thursday.
He passes through the kitchen, which has soft serve ice cream and drink machines. The place isn’t finished—behind the service counter sits a large custom-made Dreamland Diner toy airplane waiting to be hung from the ceiling.
Ramberran pulls a child-sized “kids only” sign into the corner of the restaurant. It is the dance floor of the future.
“We’re going to put a disco ball on the roof,” he said.
He has been working in the approximately 1,600 square meter building for months. Little Goat, a restaurant specializing in French cuisine, took over the space; it announced it would close in April after two years of closings and reopenings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I wish I had a jukebox, but I can’t find a real, proper look for under $10,000.”– Ravi Ramberran
Ramberran is already busy: he owns the Four Crowns restaurant and bar on McPhillips Street and the St. James Burger and Chip Co. on Ness Avenue.
He wasn’t looking for a new business, he said. Still, he reads the real estate news and checks the “for sale” signs. He wanted a similar place to eat Back to the Future since childhood.
“I’ve been looking for a place like this for a long time,” Ramberran said. “When this came up, I thought, ‘Man, I can make that place beautiful.’
He bought the St. James haunting and “removed it completely,” he said.
New equipment, floors, lights came along. A reference guide with photos and renderings of places to eat arrived on his phone.
Ramberran ordered 60 seats from Accro Furniture, a Winnipeg manufacturer that sells retro products.
“I think it’s really important that when you open a restaurant in a city, you’re selling more than food,” Ramberran said. “You sell atmosphere, you sell a good time.”
Hence the glowing “Dreams do come to reality” sign on the geometric wallpaper — it’s meant for sharing photos, Ramberran said.
“I think part of the fun of this business is not talking about the business,” he said, adding that he hopes Dreamland Diner will grow through word of mouth and people’s curiosity.
The food is classic diner food – hotdogs, fries, milkshakes and onion rings.
“The job here is to keep the price really low, and we make up the gains on (customer) volume,” Ramberran said.
“I think when you talk about the recession and all the upswing, people are looking for affordable options.”– Ravi Ramberran
To keep costs down, the restaurant operates at the counter instead of hiring waiters.
Ramberran noted that the ice cream prices have to be competitive because Dairy Queen and Sargent Sundae are nearby.
He plans to sell “extra, fancy desserts that people want to take home.” They might be more expensive, but they’re also big, Ramberran said.
“I think when you talk about the recession and all the upswing, people are looking for affordable options,” he said. “They still want to have a night out.”
He’s keeping his menu small — no burgers yet — while he gets used to Dreamland Diner’s traffic flow, he said.
Jessie Wu hasn’t had a lunch place to refer customers to for half a year. He used to direct people in the shared parking lot of Orient Massage Therapy to the Little Goat.
“Customers ask me, ‘Where (is) the restaurant?’ I (will) say, ‘Go here,’” he said, looking in the direction of Dreamland Diner.
Paul Beaudet, co-owner of Westside Iron Training and Therapy, said food court can’t be beat. He plans to walk into the village after the gym and eat.
“You want to support a local small business,” Beaudet noted.
Nostalgia draws people to old-school diners — which may be why businesses thrive, said Nicholas Evans, a University of Manitoba psychology professor who studies nostalgia.
“It would be interesting to see the older generations go with their children or grandchildren,” Evans said.
Younger family members may try to feel nostalgic to connect with their parents, who may be reminiscing in a dining setting, Evans said.
Others, like Ramberran, may have experienced historical nostalgia — missing a part of the past without having lived in it, Evans said.
“I think a lot of it comes from watching TV shows and listening to the music of that era,” he said, adding that there hasn’t been much research done on the subject.
Ramberran plans to open Dreamland Diner this winter, though no date has been set. He expects the restaurant’s sign to arrive in mid-November, and he said he will hire about 10 workers this month.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. He graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in spring 2020.
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