Mitzi’s Restaurant in Winnipeg serves its last famous chicken fingers

The days of serving chicken fingers, honey dill sauce, and Chinese food with a smile will soon be coming to a close for the downtown Winnipeg staple, Mitzi’s Restaurant.

“You see 46 years is a long time and I think I need to take it easy and it’s time for me to hang up my apron,” said Shirley Eng, owner of Mitzi’s Restaurant.

Eng has decided to retire after dishing out thousands of chicken fingers for decades to hungry Manitobans.

She opened the restaurant with her husband in 1978 at the corner of Garry Street and St. Mary Ave. after he took a greater interest in cooking. After three weeks of helping him make food, she realized it was impossible to not do it full-time.

“I told my husband only 10 years, but now I don’t know what happened, it’s 46 years,” Eng said as she laughed.

‘500 to 600 pounds a week of chicken’ sold at restaurant

Eng said her family was inspired to perfect homemade chicken fingers after tasting them at another restaurant and deciding they could do better. The family had another restaurant open in Garden City Shopping Centre and was the perfect launch site to test the food.

“When we came home, my husband tried to invent his own recipe,” Eng said.

“We sold them in the Garden City food court. The first time only 50 pounds worth a week and then before we sold that place it was at 350 pounds.”

By the 1980s, Eng and her family decided to revamp Mitzi’s menu of traditional Chinese food by adding the chicken fingers that caught fire in popularity and the business hasn’t slowed down since the first time they served them 35 years ago.

“The first time maybe we sold 15 pounds a week and right now it’s between 500 to 600 pounds a week of chicken,” Eng said.

For years, the restaurant was a bustling scene welcoming customers from the downtown community, to dozens of eager Winnipeg Jets fans hoping to grab a bite to eat before puck drop since the team returned for the 2011-2012 season.

The walls still feature Eng’s numerous awards for her food service and memorabilia from Randy Bachman, who always makes time to stop at the restaurant while visiting the city.

Mitzi’s Restaurant closed its dining room during the COVID-19 pandemic and has stuck with take-out only since. Eng put the red house-shaped restaurant up for sale last summer but the building still has not sold.

‘You just can’t beat it’: customers will miss Mitzi’s

The restaurant is set to close on April 13, but many customers are coming before then to share their memories and reaction to the news of its closing.

“I’ve been coming to Mitzi’s for probably 10 years between my dad and I, before going for Jets games or just a quick lunch at work,” said long-time customer Colin Landrie.

“The chicken fingers, you can’t beat them and the honey dill and the soup you get before, you just can’t beat it.”

Myles Taylor who has also been coming to the restaurant for a decade feels the same way.

“The homemade quality of it, it’s really good, it’s one of my favourite places to come when family comes in from out of town I always try to drag them here,” Taylor said.

“I’m going to miss Shirley for sure and the food. This is one of my favourite places to come and have lunch and hang out. I’m going to miss the whole vibe and everything.”

Ronald Rarama who works in the Law Society of Manitoba building across the street has been a regular for more than 20 years. He said he will miss the owner’s friendly face the most.

“I’m definitely going to miss Shirley, she’s been the face of Mitzi’s,” Rarama said.

“It’s almost like you’ve kind of grown up with them. It’s kind of like they’re almost a second family.”

Eng said the key to her family’s success in making the popular chicken fingers has always been their homemade approach.

“Quite a lot of places they serve food and most of them are commercial,” Eng said.

“For ours, we order in, we make them, marinade them for the next day. We start with everything fresh. The freshness makes a big difference.”

After the restaurant closes, Eng is hopeful to take some time to continue Mitzi’s legacy by selling one product that helped make the restaurant famous.

“I think after working for such a long time, if you want me to retire, there’s something wrong with me mentally,” Eng said as she laughed.

“I will try my best to make the honey dill dressing and put it for the grocery stores to sell so at least my customers still can taste a little bit of Mitzi’s.”

For her legions of supporters in the city, Eng had this to say.

“Thank you to all my Mitzi’s friends and the long-time loyal customers,” Eng said.

“You’ve supported us for such a long time. Quite a lot of generations that have grown up with Mitzi’s. Thank you everybody for supporting me for 46 years. I will miss you guys and I hope all the best for everybody.”

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