As It Happens5:46Winnipeg is famous for its Fat Boy burgers. This man is on a quest to try them all
To a non-Winnipegger, a Fat Boy may appear, at first glance, to be nothing more than an ordinary chilli burger.
“I would say the first bite being half across your face would say otherwise,” Richard Caron — a Winnipeg chef and Fat Boy connoisseur — told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.
“If your burger is not mostly disintegrated by the last two or three bites, then I would say you’re not getting a proper Fat Boy.”
The Fat Boy has been a Winnipeg staple for decades. You can find different versions of it all across the city, but at its core, it’s a cheeseburger topped with mayonnaise, mustard, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles — and most importantly — a generous dollop of meat sauce.
Caron is on a quest to taste and review every Fat Burger Winnipeg has to offer, and he’s documenting it all on his Instagram account, For The Love of All Fatboys.
His plight was recently featured in the Winnipeg Free Press.
The history of the Fat Boy
A 2019 story from CBC Winnipeg traces the iconic burger’s origins to restaurateur Gus Scouras, who — along with his late brothers, George and John Scouras — opened some of Winnipeg’s most legendary burger joints.
Scouras — a post-Second World War immigrant from Greece — first learned to slather meat sauce on burgers in the 1950s at his uncle’s restaurant in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Later, he opened his own restaurant in Winnipeg called Junior’s Restaurant, where he unveiled a burger covered in chilli sauce. He called it the Lotta Burger — because it was a whole lot of burger.
Later, he and his brother George opened a second location, which they called Boy Big Burger, and their younger sibling John joined the business.
Over the years, Scouras told CBC, many of their employees went on to run restaurants of their own, and they took the concept with them.
One of those workers, Mike Lambos, bought the Dairi-Wip Drive-In in 1959. He takes credit for coining the name Fat Boy, which has since become entrenched.
Scouras told CBC he doesn’t mind that people took his recipe and ran with it. Of Lambos, he said: “He’s a good boy. I wish him very well.”
That lack of animosity between burger slingers carries on today, says Caron.
“It’s good vibes between owners just, you know, trying to peddle their wares and get people to come in and try their Fat Boys,” he said.
“I think everybody … puts their own sort of spin on their own creation. So everybody sort of tries to outdo the next — but in good spirit.”
Distinguishing those subtle differences between the city’s many Fat Boy offerings is part of Caron’s mission with For The Love of All Fatboys.
Usually, he says, the distinction comes down to the sauce.
“Everybody has their own special ingredient that they put in their at boy sauce,” he said.
“Cinnamon is the mainstay. But also some people have been known to add in coffee grinds here and there, and whatnot. So you’re not getting the same sort of chilli sauce at every place.”
Fat Boys are a vibe
But it’s not all about the ingredients, he says. When hunting for a good Fat Burger, he’s also looking for a restaurant with a certain je ne c’est quoi.
“Kudos to those people that, you know, open those nice shiny new burger joints with clean counters and whatnot. And I’m not saying that I want the kitchen to be dirty in any of these places that I would go into,” he said.
“But a little grit around the edges, a tabletop counter game, make sure that the kids have a claw machine and maybe maybe a 60-year-old lady behind the counter always tells me that this is going to be a good place to get a Fat Boy.”
Caron says a lot of local restaurants in Winnipeg took a hit during the pandemic lockdowns.
“We want to support our own, and Winnipeggers, I know they like doing that,” he said. “So this is sort of a quest to just make people aware that these places are still around.”
So far, Caron has eaten and reviewed dozens of Fat Boys.
He’s not sure how many more he has left to go to hit his goal, but says he’s accumulated a list of about 90 places so far.
“My wife’s raising an eyebrow, like how long is this going to go on for?” he said.
He usually eats about one a week — barring a brief reprieve over the Christmas holidays.
“Funny enough people ask me, am I getting sick of these Fat Boys?” he said. “Well around, I think, it was Day 12 or 13 that I took a break, I was actually craving a Fat Boy.”