Mugsy’s Deli is preparing to serve its final pot of soup. The doors of the vaunted Main Street eatery, open since 1998, will close later this week.
June 11 will be the last day before the restaurant shuts down. The restaurant and building have been sold to a trio of local business owners who plan to start a new eatery, the Aurora + Pine Bistro, in the near future - renovations to the building will start as early as the end of the month.
Natasha Daneliuk has been the owner and operator of the restaurant since 2005 and, during business hours, is never too far from the restaurant floor. Selling the restaurant is a mixed bag of feelings for Daneliuk, but she is eager for a change.
“I'm super excited about it, to be honest,” she said.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had to make a resume - 25 years in fact, so that was a little tricky. I'm excited. I loved working here, I loved serving the public - that is my passion. I do love taking care of people and getting them what they need and making them feel comfortable here."
The deli was started by Mary Lee Akert in 1998 - Akert’s nickname, “Mugsy”, lent its name to the eatery. Akert first opened the restaurant up on the southern part of Main Street before moving it to 114 Main Street and adding an outdoor patio.
The menu has stayed more or less unchanged - no removals, only a few additions - and the kind of fare offered - no fried foods, salads and healthier fare than other restaurants - has also stayed similar. Daneliuk bought the business in 2005 and it’s been hers ever since.
“She [Akert] really nailed it,” she said.
“I think over the years, you’d have people that are mad that there are no fries here, but then there are other people who are grateful because it's not an option. They can look at the menu and go, ‘Oh, I guess I do have to choose something new today.’”
Daneliuk often jokes that she bought the restaurant because she wanted to be a waitress, but that’s not just a quip - she waitressed at restaurants in town, in Winnipeg and Saskatoon before heading back to Flin Flon and settling down with Mugsy’s. Cooking was never supposed to be part of the deal - she recalled that it was only her father Raymond that told her she’d likely need to work in the kitchen after buying the restaurant.
“He said, ‘So, you're going to have to learn how to cook.’ I said, ‘No, there's always a cook for that.’ He said, ‘no, actually, you’ll have to learn to cook. Your cook will be sick. Your cook will not come in,’” she said.
“I did not buy the restaurant to necessarily be a cook. I bought the restaurant to be a waitress and assumed that a cook would always be around. I did learn to cook out of necessity, but my passion has definitely been serving people.”
Daneliuk’s clientele has ranged from a smattering of local regulars to out-of-town visitors or incoming workers - for whom the restaurant and its homemade soups and sandwiches proved to be extra special, she said.
“The people who I think really appreciated it the most are the people from out of town that literally lived from their suitcase sometimes and had to go from one restaurant to the next. They're the ones who truly appreciated having homemade soups, sandwiches to eat,” she said.
One of the toughest tests for Daneliuk and for the restaurant came during the onset of COVID-19 and resulting waves of infection and public health orders, which several times either closed the restaurant down or limited the number of customers allowed inside.
The deli didn’t take on an official delivery program during the worst of the pandemic - Daneliuk was worried about putting employees at risk doing deliveries during COVID-19 waves - but stayed open for pick-up orders, which helped keep the lights on.
While not every customer through the door was understanding, Daneliuk said the community support helped get her and the business through the worst of the pandemic.
“Some people were so incredibly kind, like over the top kind,” she said.
“For me, it was nice to be able to communicate with other people and find that we were really all on the same playing field at that point in time.”
Since Daneliuk took over the business, just over 90 employees have come through its doors. She said she has learned something new from each of them, especially longer-term workers.
“All my staff over the years, they have changed my life in a way, to look at things differently, to try different things, to see things in a different perspective or a different way,” she said.
“I’ve learned so much from them.”
Later this month, the building will move into possession of a trio of local restauranteurs - Kelsie Gardner, Cali Gerbrandt and Ainslie McIntosh-Stallard, the creators behind the Aurora + Pine Bistro project. The trio plans to make over and retheme the restaurant, presenting it more as an evening venue with a different ambiance.
The new owners have been involved in talks with Daneliuk, on and off, for years now - Daneliuk said discussions with Gardner to buy the business took place as early as 2017. With two accredited and experienced chefs (Gardner and McIntosh-Stallard) who both grew up in the area, Daneliuk sees them as natural successors to the business.
“I'm so excited for the young entrepreneurs to take over the restaurant because I feel like they can grow this business in a new way that I never could,” said Daneliuk.
“I’m excited for the next step because they'll have an opportunity to grow the business in a way that I couldn't, because I'm one person - they’re three people in three different positions and they'll be able to manage the restaurant very differently than what I was able to do as one person.”
As for what happens next for Daneliuk after June 11, she isn’t completely certain. She wants to take on a new career, though leaving Flin Flon hasn’t yet been part of the plan. Whatever comes next, Daneliuk hopes her path winds back toward helping people.
“I'm passionate about serving people. Whatever line of work that I choose next, it'll probably be somewhere in that direction. That definitely makes me happy, when I'm walking around with the coffee pot,” she said.