Restaurant chain celebrates 50 years of rings, root beer

You now drive through, not in — but not much else has changed since the first A&W restaurant in Canada opened its doors on Winnipeg's Portage Avenue 50 years ago.

You now drive through, not in — but not much else has changed since the first A&W restaurant in Canada opened its doors on Winnipeg's Portage Avenue 50 years ago.

The fast-food restaurant chain is marking a half-century in Canada this month with a celebration this Thursday at its first Canadian location, at Kirkfield Park and Portage Avenue in the west end of the city.

Wayne Gowryluk, A&W's director of operations from Newfoundland to Saskatchewan, says the chain still features many of the same menu items — including the "burger family," whistle dogs, crisp onion rings and frosty root beer — one of the reasons, he believes, it has done so well over the years.

"Back then it was the place to go: it was a family restaurant in the day, and in the evening it was all the teenyboppers and the cruising all happened," said Gowryluk, who has worked for the chain almost as long as it has operated in Canada.

Gowryluk started as a weekend mug washer at the Lockport location in the 1960s.

"I think what happened … the kids got older and now the baby-boomer generation today, they just have such fond memories of A&W, and business is wonderful."

The restaurant used to have carhops serve patrons in their cars, but that service ended in the early 1980s. The car culture began to change, Gowryluk said, and "eating in the car became a thing of the past."

Today, many patrons are back eating in their cars — but without the carhops — using drive-through service at many of the chain's 600 locations across the country.

The restaurant, named for founding partners Roy Allen and Frank Wright, is celebrating its 85th anniversary in the United States, although the two chains have different owners and use different menus.