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(Jeff Vinnick/Copyright 2005 Jeff Vinnick-The Globe and Mail)
(Jeff Vinnick/Copyright 2005 Jeff Vinnick-The Globe and Mail)

Case Study

When people quit saying 'let's do lunch' Add to ...


Brenlea and Karen Yamron, co-managers of Nathan Detroit’s Sandwich Pad in Winnipeg, looked at the day’s sales total and sighed. While they still had plenty of customers, they couldn’t help but notice they weren’t quite as plentiful as they used to be. The food was still great, but where were all those customers, the two sisters wondered, that used to come by for lunch?

The business world changed dramatically in the last decade. Increasingly, people didn’t always need to be present at their downtown offices to continue conducting business. Whereas in the past they had come in to the office five days a week for eight to ten hours a day, these same people might now only come in two or three days a week and stay only two or three hours each time. Many weren’t coming in at all. The internet has made it possible for a lot more work to be done a lot further away from the traditional downtown area.

The implications for restaurateurs like the Yamron sisters were potentially daunting. Fewer people coming downtown for less time meant fewer people with less time to fill the restaurant’s tables.

This left the sisters asking: What can we do to reintroduce our restaurant to potential customers in this brave new, and often emptier, workplace?


In 1979 Max Jacobson launched a specialty eatery in downtown Winnipeg. In 1981 Ian and Fraydel Yamron and their partner Sharon Labinsky took over ownership of the ‘soup, sandwich and salad’ eatery. Located in the underground concourse beneath Canada’s windiest corner at Portage Avenue and Main Street, the three entrepreneurs were joined by the Yamron’s oldest daughter, Brenlea, in mid-1980s and then by her sister, Karen, in 2004.

During the three-plus decades that the establishment has operated it has thrived by offering customers a tasty selection of deli sandwiches, homemade soups, salads and desserts. And who were those customers? To a large extent, the city’s professional business community, including some of its top corporate executives, accountants, lawyers and bankers. There was no shortage of other restaurants nearby, but Nathan Detroit’s was the place to do lunch.


Brenlea and Karen began to look at ways to revive their business and hang on to their broad clientele. One solution they discussed was going out and finding customers, which would mean developing the catering arm of their operations. However, this too was changing as business and conference travel was on the decline while on-line training was on the increase.

The sisters needed a way to reposition their family business for a sustainable future in this brave new, and often less densely populated, workplace.

In early 2010 a potential solution presented itself in the form of an opportunity to relocate the restaurant within the underground concourse.

For the past few decades they had operated at the far eastern end of the Lombard Concourse. One implication of this location was that unless customers already knew where Nathan Detroit’s was, or happened to see the restaurant while walking by, they were just as likely to not know the restaurant even existed.

The sisters chose to relocate the restaurant from the far end of the concourse to one of the busiest thoroughfare points located almost directly under one of Winnipeg’s landmarks, The Richardson Building. Now, the Yamrons will be able to introduce their restaurant to the thousands of Winnipeggers who walk by each day. This in turn will hopefully lead to the reutterance of that classic phrase “Let’s do lunch at Nathan Detroit’s.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Reg Litz is a professor in the Asper School of Business of the University of Manitoba.

This is one of a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Your Business website.

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