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Mr. Bones pizzeria back from the dead

Original owner oversees takeout's rebirth

Mr. Bones Pizza owner Harold Brazil is back in the pizza game.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Mr. Bones Pizza owner Harold Brazil is back in the pizza game.

BRUSHING by the tombstones of Chi-Chi's, Branigan's and The Wagon Wheel, Mr. Bones Pizza has emerged from Winnipeg's restaurant graveyard.

Once a major player in the city's pizza scene with six locations and a commissary, Mr. Bones shut down nearly a decade ago when its owner opted to start a nursing career.

But shortly after shuttering the last location, Harold Brazil started to wax nostalgic about the ultra-competitive business he first entered in 1989.

"I didn't regret what I was doing, but I missed it," he said.

When he decided to get back into the pizza fray, the market had changed considerably as a number of multi-national chains, including Pizza Pizza, Papa John's and Little Caesars, had arrived and carved out their own slices of the pie. After investigating the possibilities and financial requirements, he decided he could make a go of it. First off, he had to re-trademark the name and logo.

Then, to gauge potential interest, he created a Facebook page about a year ago entitled Bring Back Bones.

"Within the first month, it took off. In no time, I had more than 1,000 likes and I thought, 'Wow, the interest is there,' " he said.

"Mr. Bones was profitable back then. I wouldn't say they made me a millionaire, but I made a living off of them."

Brazil has also been active on Twitter, and he has an online newsletter.

Then the search for a building began, and he ultimately signed a lease at 1027 McPhillips St.

Despite having to endure some red tape-related delays from the city, he opened his doors last week.

The 2,200-square-foot location offers takeout and delivery and currently has seats for four. (There are plans to be able to accommodate 10 people.) There's also a pool table and a Pac-man machine to keep customers occupied while they wait for their pizza. Brazil said he's still hiring staff, but he plans to have between 15 and 20 employees.

Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said restaurants can close down for a variety of reasons -- a tired concept, losing money or mismanagement.

"It's very rare for a restaurant chain to go dark and return. Some places get a following (of loyal customers)," he said.

Jocelyn said Denny's, Swiss Chalet and Harvey's are three examples of chains that left Winnipeg only to re-emerge a few years later. The difference between them and Mr. Bones is they continued to operate elsewhere.

Just how many Mr. Bones locations might emerge from the graveyard remains to be seen.

"That's up to the public," Brazil said. "We've had interest from investors and people who want to franchise stores. I've told everybody we have to wait how the first location does. I don't want to jump the gun."

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

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