Downtown Pony Corral took over the Grapes location on St. Mary’s in 1999. It would be their second location after success on Pembina Highway from the late 1980s. The Ginakes family had a reputation for family restaurants but the downtown location had a bar vibe about it that lasted through its 21 years. Many celebrations were started or ended at The Pony. It was where Cruise Night started as well.
It may not be the last Ginakes venture downtown. He owns the building where Mother Tucker’s used to be and the benefits of the True North towers and surrounding investments are still being measured by those who live and work by. Restaurant entrepreneurs are always looking for the next format and location. What works in one place might not work in others.
Grapes operated in six locations in Winnipeg and even further afield but the last one on Pembina closed in 2010. The Kenaston location closed after 28 years in 2008.
The Pony elsewhere probably has enough regular goers and excellent locations. Grant Park is a rejuvenated mall with dense population around it and with good local events such as Cruise Night to keep it relevant. Even with Moxies and Joeys everywhere, the Pony stands apart because it can and has been a gathering place.
The one thing you notice when you go to the Pony downtown is that that is sizable. This is why it was used for celebrations. But that is a competitive market and restaurants have to pulls crowds from lunch to late night. That is no easy feat. While their are office towers with private and government and workers Monday to Friday, it doesn’t help that the The Bay is pretty much a dead zone now.
If customer parking can remain available across the street in evenings, there is a chance that another restaurant group might be interested. The patio remains an attractive feature which is something not every restaurant provides. Rumour has it that The Pint is on the hunt in Winnipeg again but The Pony is closer to the RBC Convention Centre than it is to BellMTS so maybe not ideal for a sports bar.
It is tough to be in the restaurant business. Some people are very committed to the same places all the time but if that demographic changes or people check something else out, the slim margin of what is successful can come crashing down.
The Pony Corral was a good restaurant to have downtown and contributed to a vitality on the street. Any restaurant that occupies its space would do well to reach out as many people as they did.
This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations