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November 22, 2013

Christopher Ryan: Ponderosa, Ottawa's steakhouse bonanza

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Christopher Ryan: Ponderosa, Ottawa’s steakhouse bonanza

12 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:42 AM

    My sister trained at the one in Bell's Corners before working at the one at Merivale & Baselinei think the one in BC went on to become a Studebakers and then a Hooters and I belive is now a Tim Hortons. It may have been other things at one time. My Mom worked at the GEM store at Merivale & Baseline (GEM stood for Government Employee Membership but by the time my Mom worked there it was open to the general public as a regular department store). My Nom being the straightforward person she was told the new GM of the soon to open Ponderosa resataurant that she had a daughter attending Laurentian High School across the street (now a WalMart). My sister was hired and since we lived on Maitland Avenue it was convenient. My sister worked there for a year or two until she got in an argument with a manager and threw a wet cloth in his face. So started her new career in the dining room at Sears Carlingwood! I used to go to Ponderosa during a spare I had after lunch and could get a $1.29 chopped steak meal. Chopped steak = hamburger! But the price was right for a high school kid. Shawn Williams

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    1. Thank-you so much for that! It really fills things in for me :)

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  2. Anonymous8:43 AM

    The one at Baseline & Merivale had physical changes to that building over the years. It was one of the ones that became a Red Lobster and then may have been a Joeys Only Seafood and is now a Firkin' & Knight. Part of the large Firkin' family of restaurants. The one on Bank became an O'Toole's. I worked for O'Toole's out of Toronto in the early 80's and they were buying up Ponderosa locations and converting them to O'Toole's. When O'Toole's fell on hard times (their own fault as they were under capitalized and spending money like drunken sailors) it eventually became a Local Hero's. But that may have changed recently as that business has undergone some ownership/management changes. Shawn Williams

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    1. It makes me wonder who was involved with O'Toole's. That seems to be the exact story of what Foodex did with Frank Vetere's (comments below): very high levels of spending, very quick expansion, and gone as quickly as it appeared.

      The Local Heroes outlet on Bank recently became Hometown Catering. I'm not sure what, if any relation exists there.

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    3. After the Baseline and Merivale Red Lobster location closed, the location was briefly home to "Mama Mia's" - an Italian buffet by day, dance club karaoke bar by night. After Mama Mia's closed, Joey's Only Seafood took over a portion of the space.

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  3. Re: GEM mall - was the Loblaws always there or did that replace "GEM"? Was the membership something like Costco is today?
    I remember that shopping complex well. As kids we went to church next door to the west at Bethany Baptist Church, now demolished. And further to the west was a Chinese food place. Also demolished, I think.

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    1. Anonymous8:14 AM

      here's a clipping from 1979 that answers some more questions about what used to be at Baseline/Merivale
      http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2194&dat=19790108&id=Wq4yAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Q-4FAAAAIBAJ&pg=4733,3326605

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  5. I worked at the Ponderosa on Montreal Rd for a few years starting in 1980. I remember line-ups out the door on Mother's Day. I always thought it was strange to make your mom/wife stand in line and order her meal cafeteria-style.

    In terms of its demise, the prices went up quite a few times while I worked there, nearing the prices at full-service steak houses like The Hayloft on Rideau St. It was also rumoured that Foodex lost a lot of money on Frank Vetere's, the deep dish pizza houses it set up across Canada.

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    1. Thank-you for the information regarding the outlet on Montreal Road!

      I had come across some advertisements for Frank Vetere's in my travels, but didn't pursue it further. Looking now though, I can see that it went as quickly as it came. An article from the Citizen in 1984 quoted Foodex president Bryan McJannet as saying they opened too many too quickly. Pizza Hut picked up and converted the 16 Vetere restaurants in the GTA, leaving Foodex with 14 that year.

      That seems to have been Foodex' MO: rapid unsustainable expansion.

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  6. Anonymous2:46 PM

    Great blog! I worked at the Bank St. Ponderosa throughout high school (1979-1984), and in the summer while in university at the ones on Montreal Road (1985) and Bells Corners (1986). I had a great time working there. The one in Bells Corners was the last remaining store, finally closing in the summer of 1986. At first it was turned into a "Chevy's", and then become "Legends". Neither one lasted very long. The one on Bank Street was definitely around in the summer of 1985, but closed before the summer of 1986. I always wondered why the Bank St. store had a different broiler and ventilation system than all of the other ones ... the article about the smell answered that question! I remember Frank Vetere's as well ... we used to go to their "all you can eat pizza" days.

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