Of all the many ways I’m a bad Winnipegger, being late for KUB bread is one. It’s not my fault; I didn’t grow up on rye. My parents were WASPy immigrants from the American Midwest who never took notice of the city’s more insular culinary traditions; When I was a child, all the breads in our house were white.
So my introduction came much later, as a newly minted adult. I tried it for the first time in its natural habitat, that is, late at night in the lounge of some sketchy community center. There are many rye breads in Winnipeg and some are better than others. But for some reason, when it came to wedding socials, it had to be, and almost always was, KUB.
Oh, so it was magical. midnight bread Clean bread. A bread to invite a second wind. Palm-sized, smeared with mustard, served on paper plates with more anticipation than ceremony. Put a slice of ham in there. Squeeze it around a suspiciously yellow cube of cheese. It wasn’t a fancy dinner, but it satisfied a simpler urge. more primitive. In those moments, it was love.
Sometimes love is about familiarity, more than anything. It is the consolation of knowing what to expect, and knowing that it will happen again. And Winnipeg has never been overly eager for change. The tenor of the city, in general, is to want most things to stay the same. But nothing does.
So when the news broke Tuesday night that KUB Bakery was closing its doors after nearly 100 years of operation, it was, as many rightly claimed, the end of an era. It was also a source of real grief: On social media, Winnipeggers traded stories about what the bakery’s items had meant to them and vowed to keep KUB loaves in their freezers for posterity.
What is that alchemy that turns something as humble as a loaf of bread into something more deeply rooted in an identity? It is certainly a matter of history: since 1923, when it began life as Kucher’s Ukrainian Bakery, KUB’s products found their way into the life of the city’s working class, linked to the immigrant roots that, at that time, They were growing something new.
And when that is passed down from generation to generation, it becomes something beyond how it started. Over the years, KUB came to occupy the same curious cultural space as Jeanne’s pies, a source of both widespread affection and perplexing debate. It didn’t have to be great, it was just what had always been there. It was what did not change.
Yet the world did. This week KUB’s owners, the Einfeld family bought it in 1982, told reporters that the sudden closure was due to a confluence of events. Rising ingredient costs; the loss of business from large events, such as Jets concession stands, during the worst of the pandemic; and the desire of the owners to retire, with no one waiting to take over.
Still, perhaps the collective outpouring of sadness over the loss of KUB is a bit premature. It may not be gone forever. The owners would sell the bakery, they told reporters, if there was a buyer. Maybe there’s someone in Winnipeg whose ears pricked up when he heard that. Someone with equal amounts of cash, business sense, and nostalgic memories of the brand.
But if KUB has truly baked its last loaf, let’s take a moment to reminisce. Because there’s a reason why we’ve loved him so much.
Consider what happens when I travel and make friends from other parts of the world. Sooner or later, the talk turns to describing the local specialties of our cities. When he does, I can hear the words coming out of my mouth and know that, to an outsider, the culinary aspects I’m reciting sound impossibly quaint and comically dull.
“Well, we have a sauce that combines mayonnaise, dill and honey, and we also have this type of rye bread.”
However, that’s the charm. If those are the things we’ve been holding onto, maybe it’s because they capture some kind of essence of the city. It’s Winnipeg, nothing fancy. Nasty but honest, and both for better and for worse based on his story. So it’s perfect that a loaf of bread has become a treasured symbol of this city. It feels like home; I would not change anything.