How an iconic Brantford, Ont., ice cream shop was won and lost and won again in a poker game — maybe
The poker game story has circulated for years, in a game of small-town telephone
Many of the players have passed, but the story of the poker club that bet and lost the iconic Dairee Delite ice cream shop in Brantford, Ont. — not once but twice — has lived for decades.
A plaque commemorating the game is on Dairee Delite's building, and reads: "It was won and lost in two high stakes poker games," but getting to the bottom of the story is no easy task.
When you dig a little deeper, it quickly unwinds into a small-town game of telephone.
Sarah Disher, Dairee Delite's current owner, was 10 years old when her parents bought Dairee Delite in 1989.
Disher grew up with the shop and the story of the poker game.
"We just heard the old folklore that [the shop] had allegedly been won and lost maybe a couple times in a poker game, you know, that there was some pretty high-stakes poker in town with some people who owned different businesses and fancy cars and stuff," she said.
Disher's parents, Paul and Sheena, told Disher that sometime in the 1970s, Dairee Delite's original owner lost the shop to another Brantford businessman, who then lost it to the manager of the town's Home Hardware and sold it. Two owners later, the Dishers bought the shop.
Murray Angus, a local Brantford history buff, said there could be 15 different versions of the poker game story.
Angus said he heard the tale from his father, who owned a jewelry shop in Brantford and was friends with the two players who allegedly won and lost Dairee Delite.
"My dad, actually, I believe played in a few games with these guys," Angus said, but added his dad didn't say much about the games themselves.
"My dad didn't really tell me exactly how much he used to win or lose."
The origins of Dairee Delite
In 1953, Brantford entrepreneur George Koster opened Koster's Cream-EEE-Freeze, which would later be renamed Dairee Delight. It was the same building that sits at King George Road and St. Paul Avenue today, but it was at a different location at Brant Avenue and Bedford Street.
Koster died in 2014, just shy of his 95th birthday. His second wife, Elizabeth (Lizanna) Koster, said they knew each other in the 1950s, when Koster opened the ice cream stand.
She said Koster was a successful entrepreneur and owned a typical '50s fast-food place called Koster's Drive In Car Hop Service.
"It was the first drive-in they had in Brantford, where they brought your food out to the car, and he also had a mini golf course on that property," she said, adding he also owned a dance hall called the Kos-Bar.
"They had big bands and lots of action, parties and dancing."
Lizanna said Koster played poker with his friends, casually, but never played high stakes and never bet the Cream-EEE-Freeze. Lizanna said Koster sold the shop fair and square, and trained the new owner how to make "frozen custard" the way Koster did it.
"He did not lose it in a gambling game," she said.
Lizanna said that when the Brantford Expositor wrote an article about the poker game before Koster's death, he took the paper and "he wrote in his handwriting, 'Not true' that he lost it to Wardy Garbedian in a gambling game."
You've gotta know when to hold 'em
Walter (Wardy) Garbedian died in 1997. His son, Brian, has his own version of the poker game story.
"My dad won it," he said. "I don't know what the stakes were. I don't know what the circumstances were. I only know that one day we ended up [with it]."
Brian said gambling was more than a game to his father.
"My father never drank when he played. Any serious gambling, he never drank at all. He always kept his wits about him. That's why he was good at what he did, because he was well disciplined."
Around the time of the infamous poker game, Garbedian, who immigrated to Canada when he was very young, escaping the Armenian genocide of the 1920s, owned his own business, called Supreme Music.
"He'd rent jukeboxes and pinball machines. That was his business for years. That's how he made his living," Brian said, adding his dad would supplement his business with his poker winnings.
"He would go into the game very serious," Brian said. "That was part of his job. That's how he paid a lot of his bills."
After Garbedian allegedly won the ice cream stand, he had it moved to the Woolco parking lot on King George Road, location of the present-day Walmart plaza. A newspaper clipping from the time says it was moved on Nov. 25, 1963, meaning the alleged poker game would have happened sometime that year.
When it comes to the details of the infamous game, Brian, who was very young at the time, said he can't remember the specifics, but he swears his dad sold the business fair and square, to Gary Becker.
CBC Hamilton was unable to get in touch with the Becker family for this article.
The story lives on
Without Koster or Garbedian, it is hard to say what really happened. Their loved ones continue to tell the story as they heard it, as many people in Brantford do as well.
Angus said that perhaps neither men wanted to share what they won or lost while playing poker, but the truth behind the story doesn't matter as much as the story itself.
"The story is part of Brantford history. Whether it happened or not hardly matters," he said.
According to an Expositor article from Sept. 7, 2002, the plaque on Dairee Delite has nothing to do with the Heritage Act, and is there to "draw attention to places that are special in the lives of people who live here," said James Calnan, then chairman of the Brantford Heritage Committee.
Disher said that even if Dairee Delite wasn't won in a poker game, she doesn't mind.
"Maybe the end of the story is the mystery continues. The mystery lives on, right?"
To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.
By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.
Become a CBC Account Holder
Join the conversation Create account
Already have an account?