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Danny Finkleman – more than just “Finkleman’s 45’s”

Danny Finkleman

By GERRY POSNER
And then there is Danny Finkleman. For many of us that grew up in the 50s and 60s – when we think of the 1970s and 80s the name Dan Finkleman comes to mind as someone who carved out a career stemming from his curiosity and interest in music. I know – as I was with him for a chunk of his journey.

 

Dan Finkleman was a product of the South End – 359 Niagara Street to be precise, the son of Sid (of Finkleman Optometrists, if you can go back that far) and Dorothy Finkleman, and brother to another well known ex-Winnipegger: Ken Finkleman.

Dan exuded colour even as a kid and that same personality still reigns today. After Kelvin High School, he graduated from the University of Manitoba law school – more out of an obligation to his parents than anything, since the legal world was never in the deck of cards for Dan.
It was one of those chance moments at a party when a Winnipeg CBC radio producer with whom Dan was acquainted, Heather Robertson, suggested he find interesting people to interview for local radio. He began with the well-known Winnipeg artist Esther Warkov and from that emerged a series of free lance interviews.

Before you could say Danny Finkleman, he had a one-hour show on a different topic every week. A popular national CBC radio show by the name of “Matinee” picked it up and ran segments. That was in late 1968, and soon Finkleman was asked to move to Toronto. It was not long before Finkleman was doing interviews for a show recognized as one of the premier radio shows in the country: “ This Country In The Morning “ hosted by the late Peter Gzowski. Dan was no longer thinking about torts and contracts.

In the early 1970s Dan had his own time Saturday morning time slot from 10:0 AM to 11:30 with what was called “The Danny Finkleman Show”, which contained interviews and other characters whom Dan invited as regular participants. This show had a wide following, although if you were at synagogue that morning, you missed it.
In 1982 Dan joined “Sunday Morning” on CBC, doing short five to seven minute features. Still, with all of that behind him, Dan was only warming up, as he was soon asked to host a regular two-hour Saturday evening radio show on CBC.
Iin 1985 he aired the very first show of what would eventually became a 20-year run. Many readers will no doubt recall that show:“ Finkleman’s 45’s.” Dan had a huge listening audience waiting to hear songs from yesteyear, his introductions to those songs, and Dan’s signature rants on subjects of every kind, including his profound distaste for email!
In radioland, 20 years is an eternity. It is hard to fathom just how successful this show was, but one clue was the huge fan base it acquired, eventually culminating in a Dan Finkleman Fan Club – which still has members to this day.
Still, when Dan gave it up, he was ready to move on. He reinvented himself in a new career that lasted as long as his radio career, becoming a stockbroker at Canaccord Capital in Toronto.
Now, not many people could make that kind of a switch. But what Dan had going for him was his innate curiosity and an interest in the stock market.
He never looked back. Dan retired a few years ago, but not before he introduced one of his three children, Sam Finkleman, into the business. Dan and his wife Kristen have three children and three grandchildren.

The thing about Dan Finkleman is what you see is what you get. He is the same guy he was in Grade 6 hanging around Queenston School – just with a little less hair. He is also the same guy who used to sing in a quartette with Danny Klass, Irving Tessler and me, known as the “Lo- Notes”.
He likes to return to his Winnipeg days and roots so that my lunches in Toronto with Dan tend to focus on our glorious past. When Dan read the article on Toppers in the JP&N, he reflected on his own AZA days with Winnipeg 38s and his buddies from the time: Sid Robinovitch, Morley Hollenberg, Charles Smithen, Earl Goodman, Richard Rosenblat, Brian Rosner, Lenny Steingarten, Danny Klass, Fred Wintrobe, Ken Arenson and Gerry Schwartz.
And. when he’s not reflecting on his early times in Winnipeg, he is happy to be at home stretched out on his La-Z-Boy – dog at his side. But of course, if you listened to “Finkleman’s 45’s” you already knew that fact about Dan Finkleman. He was – and remains a true Winnipeg personality.

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Sandra Caplan’s Jewish Journey

Recently we received an email from Sandra Caplan from her Florida wintertime home. Sandra told us that she had given a talk to her synagogue sisterhood about her life and wondered whether we might be interested in reprinting it.
Sandra’s life followed a path that would be familiar to many Winnipeg Jews (both present and former). So we thought it would be interesting to reprint the story of Sandra’s life here:

The following document, titled My Jewish Journey, was presented to the Sisterhood of Congregation B’nai Israel on March 10th, 2024. I hosted a brunch at my condo in St. Petersburg and spoke of “My Jewish Journey,” the current Rosh Chodesh topic. I am sending a copy of this to my family so that they will have a better understanding of my life. I wrote this in two sessions without an outline. The words flowed from my heart to my brain, my fingers and then to the written page. Please don’t fact find!! 

Sandra with her late husband Barry

I had two photos that I always bring with me. One is of Barry and me, the other of my family on my eightieth birthday.  I also had an atlas so I could show the Floridians where Winnipeg is located. Now on to my story. 
   The following document, titled My Jewish Journey, was presented to the Sisterhood of Congregation B’nai Israel on May 10th, 2024. I hosted a brunch at my condo in St. Petersburg and spoke of My Jewish Journey, the current Rosh Chodesh topic. I am sending a copy of this to my family so that they will have a better understanding of my life. I wrote this in two sessions without an outline. The words flowed from my heart to my brain, my fingers and then to the written page. Please don’t fact find!!  I had two photos that I always bring with me. One is of Barry and me, the other of my family on my eightieth birthday.  I also had an atlas so I could show the Floridians where Winnipeg is located. Now on to my story. 
   
                                        MY JEWISH JOURNEY 
I am a Snowbird and live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Before I speak of My Jewish Journey, I would like to give you a few facts about Winnipeg. It is in the center of Canada and is 2200 miles northwest of St. Petersburg  and 500 northwest of Minneapolis. It is a prairie province, and the terrain is flat. The winters are so cold that we often plug our cars into an electric outlet, so that the engine doesn’t freeze. A mild day in the winter would be considered 0 F and a cold day 20 degrees below that.  The population in Winnipeg is approximately 750,000 people. 
Winnipeg has a Jewish population of about 8,000 people. However, in the 1930’s it was about 20,000. Many young people now leave for what they consider cities with more advantages, such as Toronto, Vancouver and many US cities. Also, families are now smaller. My Mother came from a family of seven and my father from a family of five. Winnipeg has been actively involved in promoting Winnipeg to the Argentinian Jewish community and now has a large group in our community. We also have a large French Canadian, Aboriginal and Filipina presence. 
Growing up I always considered that Winnipeg had two areas that the Jewish people lived in-the north end and the south end. I was born in 1939 and lived in the north end. My first recollection is living in a duplex owned by my paternal grandparents who were born in Europe. I was told that the railway line at one point in time ended in Winnipeg and that is why so many Jewish immigrants settled there. Another reason was that there was a homestead plan offered in Manitoba through which new immigrants would be given a plot of land for free if they developed the land. As it turned out the winters were harsh, and the land was inhospitable. The Jewish immigrants were not necessarily experienced in farming and once settled gave up the concept. They turned to commerce and a large percentage of Manitoba’s small towns had Jewish owned general and other stores. 
My father was born in Pinsk, Poland. In Winnipeg he became a furrier after high school. My mother was born in Winnipeg and opened a dress shop, Sandra’s, after I was born. 
As a young child living on Flora Ave. In the early 1940’s, every house on our street was occupied by Jewish residents. At that time there were about eleven small Orthodox synagogues in the north end. I remember sitting in the balcony at the synagogue with my mother. It was a block from our home. My mother’s parents lived about 10 minutes from our home on Selkirk Ave. My grandmother was a milliner, and her shop was at the front of her home.  When my paternal grandparents passed away, the house was sold, and we moved to the south end of the city. I was 5 and after that point can recall much of my Jewish Journey. 
In 1945 the south end was considered an upscale area. By this time my father had a men and ladies clothing shop in the Time Bldg. on Portage Ave. My mother still had her shop, Sandra’s. Our family grew with the addition of my brother Frederick (Fred). 

clockwise from top left: Sandra’ sister Marcia, Sandra, Sandra’s brother Fred, and her mother


Our home on Oxford Street had several Jewish families. The school that I attended for grade one had very few Jewish kids. It was at the time that my parents decided it was time for my Jewish education to begin. There was not a synagogue in the area, but there was talk of the Shaarey Zedek, which we belonged to moving to the south end. So, as I entered grade two, my Jewish education began, and I attended after school Hebrew classes on Mondays and Wednesdays.  The other 2 days were for the students in grades four to six. The classes were held in the basement of a home in the area.  
My recollections of those days are quite clear. The kosher butcher delivered twice a week. Since my parents both worked, we had a housekeeper who was an excellent cook. On Friday nights we often had company for dinner. I was Jewish, went to Hebrew school had a strong sense of my religion, but attended the synagogue only on the High Holidays and celebrated other important holidays such as Pesach and of course, Chanukah.  

Sandra (left) with her sister-in-law Susan Caplan


In 1949 my sister Marcia was born. In 1950 my father won the Irish Sweepstake. It was a grand sum of $39,500.00. I tried to translate it to today’s dollar. My thinking was that our home at that time cost $12,500.00. We could have bought 3 homes. That large home today of 4 bedrooms, a den and a finished basement could be worth $800,000. So, I estimate it was like winning  $2, 400.000.00 today. With this fortune my father bought property on Portage Ave and built Fredric’s, a large store that sold ladies and men’s wear, sportswear, lingerie, had tuxedo rentals and had a bridal shop on the mezzanine floor. 
It was about this time that the synagogue in the south end of town opened. It was a beautiful building on the river. I was able to attend Hebrew school here. It was a gathering place for Jewish children. I was a brownie and a girl scout, and both these activities were at the synagogue. 
At that time the synagogue was the center of my Jewish and social life. In 1952 I had a Bat Mitzvah. This was a new ceremony at the conservative Shaarey  Zedek  synagogue. It was held on a Friday night. The Bat Mitzvah celebrant wore a loose, blue satin mid length long sleeved gown. It had a round collar and a white bow at the collar. I recall standing in front of the ark and reciting a prayer that started—O God and God of my Fathers. With grateful heart I stand before thee—. I also recited a haftorah which began-Vah yishlach Shlomo el Hiram laimor. Atah yadatah—. Obviously, I rehearsed this many times so that sixty-one years later I can still remember a small portion. After the service there was a reception in the social hall. We had party sandwiches, a Winnipeg specialty and favorite to this day, dainties as referred to by non Winnipeggers as squares and cookies and luscious cakes and cookies. Winnipeg Bar and Bat Mitzvah tables are well known in Canadian Jewish circles as are our baking is renowned. I can even remember several gifts that I received. A glass duck with a filling of bubble bath and a small wooden chest filled with note paper and envelopes. I still have that chest today. It was a glorious and happy celebration and did not end my Hebrew studies. 
I continued going to Hebrew school until I was confirmed at the age of fifteen. For that ceremony I received a white leatherbound prayer book for the High Holidays which I still have today. When I was a teenager, I sang in the synagogue choir on Shabbat and the High Holidays. Our synagogue had a choir loft which was curtained and on the second floor behind the ark. We had about 20 members led by a choir master. 
In Winnipeg in 1956 you could enter University after grade eleven, which I chose to do. So, I was sixteen when I enrolled at the University of Manitoba. Everyone with a few exceptions stayed at home to go to university. In those days we had one Jewish sorority, Iota Alpha Pi which I joined and became the president of in my second year of university. We also had 3 Jewish fraternities known as the Sammies, Zebes and Apes. I took Commerce but did not get my BCom because at the end of my third year I got my MRS. 
So, this takes me to dating years in Winnipeg.  My friends and I would never think of going out with anyone but a Jewish boy. We all married Jewish boys and married very young. I was nineteen when I married Barry who was a doctor and twenty-six years old. We had a large wedding at the Shaarey Zedek the synagogue that my family attended. Looking back, I feel that I was very young, unworldly leaving my parents to go to Los Angels where Barry would be a resident. I was a young girl in a new and different world! It was a challenge. Our Jewish life as we knew it was at a standstill. I had one Aunt and a few cousins that we could visit and we knew one couple from Winnipeg. There was no time to celebrate holidays and no one to really celebrate with.  
California, however, was a nice place to live. We had no Winnipeg winters to deal with but also had no family to be with. Four years passed quickly, especially since we had two children. A daughter Susan who was born in 1962 and a son Bruce born in 1963. I also was fortunate to work at AT&T for 3 years.  
Although as I previously said we felt like we had lost some of our Jewishness, a Bris was a ceremony that was very important to us. It was up to Barry to make the arrangements. He spoke to some of the Jewish attending doctors at the hospital. He got the name of a mohel and told my mother, who had come to help me, that the mohel had a request. The baby was to wear a cap and gown. I had no knowledge of Brises and my mother thought this was a little odd. However, we were in the United States. Traditions could be different. When Bruce was 4 days old a cousin came to babysit while my mother and I went shopping for a cap and gown. We found Christening gowns and other outfits for babies. Nothing was suitable for a Bris. I heard of a store in Long Beach that perhaps could help us in our search. I had never been to Long Beach but with directions managed to find the store. We found what we thought was a perfect outfit. It was a white cotton Carters gown that was tied at the bottom with a matching bonnet that was tied under the baby’s neck. The day of the Bris arrived and we met the Mohel. His first question to Barry was “did you bring my cap and gown from the hospital”. As an excited father Barry was so happy to find a Mohel he heard only the cap and gown and assumed it was for the baby. Fortunately, we lived a few minutes from the hospital and Barry was able to ge the cap and gown for the Mohel. Later the Mohel remarked that he thought the baby’s outfit was a little strange. Our first, but certainly not our last adventure with our son. 
In 1963 we returned to Winipeg and a whole new Jewish Journey for me was established. Barry had a very large, observant family on his maternal and paternal side. So, I became immersed in all the Jewish culture of his family. My side of the family was small, and we were not as close as the Caplan/Stall family. I was twenty-three. A mother of two, naive, inexperienced and the product of a sheltered life. How did I survive? I guess that necessity was a factor. We adapted to life in the city, made friends, and carried on. The Caplan family belonged to the synagogue in the north end of town. My family belonged to the synagogue in the south end. Until our daughter Susan was twelve, we went to Rosh Pina with the Caplans. One incident that I clearly remember took place on the High Holidays in about 1969. We never joined the synagogue as Barry’s parents looked after our High Holiday tickets and with Barry’s work schedule as a Urologist who was on call every third weekend and every third of fourth night, he was not able to commit to going to shule. To get back to the holiday service the Rabbi spoke about membership in the synagogue and its importance in Jewish life. I felt he was looking directly at me as he made this appeal. On the way home I said to Barry that we must join the synagogue. It is a priority in our lives. As Susan’s Bat Mitzvah approached, I had a problem. Our children attended Ramah day school but lessons for your Bar /Bat Mitzvah and the ceremony, took place at the synagogue that you belonged to. In my mind I had no choice. To drive twice a week to the north end when it could be very cold, icy streets and a huge distance of a half hour was beyond my scope of reality. So, we joined the south end Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. Our son Bruce had his Bar Mitzvah in 1976 at the Shaarey Zedek and our son David  who was born in 1971 completed this cycle. 
While raising my family I was involved in Hadassah and National Council of Jewish Women. I became president of the chapters that I belonged to and was actively involved in both. I also volunteered at the Shaarey Zedek in a lunch program for seniors. Being in shule, whether as a volunteer or at a service or program was always an important part of my life. When my husband Barry retired in December 1999 we started coming to St. Petersburg for the winter. One of our first projects was to find a conservative synagogue. How fortunate we were to discover CBI.When we got home that spring, we started going to service every Saturday and this continued until Barry’s passing. I continued to attend until Covid and the two-year remodeling of our synagogue began. Our renovations are almost complete, and my family and I will be able to return to our beloved Shaarey Zedek for the holidays this year and I will return to my weekly Saturdays at shule. 
Jewish holidays are a special time in our family. Last Rosh Hashanah my daughter Susan and I continued the family tradition of a luncheon on the first day of the holiday. This was held at her home. How wonderful that first to fourth cousins, machatunim and those close to the family gather to enjoy this holiday. I have been in touch with a cousin in Winnipeg to check on the first Seder for this year. My children are coming to Winnipeg from Vancouver, and we look forward to enjoying the Seder with the extended family again. This year we will probably have thirty attending but often there are many more.  
When I speak of the synagogue and the importance of it in our family life, I cannot help but think of the day of Barry’s passing. I came into his hospital room and his first word was shule. I immediately called the synagogue, spoke to Rabbi Green and within a half hour he was at Barry’s bedside, singing and reciting prayers. How fortunate we are to have a religion and a life that makes us feel involved, loved and able to pass away in what we would consider a dignified and peaceful manner. As I write these words tears stream down my face and I realize how fortunate I am to have been born Jewish. 
I truly feel that I could end my Jewish Journey here, but life goes on after the loss of loved ones. For six and a half years I have been a widow. My friends hate that word, but I can’t say that I am alone. That is not true. I have a wonderful family, friends and a full life. I come to Florida for the winter, I can travel with my daughter, I visit my children and grandchildren in Vancouver, I enjoy the cultural life in my two favorite cities and much more.  
I feel that life has been good to me. I have three children, six grandchildren, many friends, good health and the ability to enjoy life. I have truly been blessed. 

family photo taken October 11, 2019
BACK ROW L – R: Sheri Winters, Bruce Caplan, Sandra Caplan, Susan Billinkoff, David Caplan, Cindy Switzer
Front Row  L – R:   Asher Billinkoff, Maia Caplan, Annie Caplan, Layla Switzer-Caplan, Max Switzer Caplan, Jordan Billinkoff
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Features

Do you want a challenge? Try opening a restaurant in Mexico – four different times in six years

Megan Kravetsky (right) with Bernie & Meachelle Bellan in Puerto Vallarta this past March


By BERNIE BELLAN In December 2021 Myron Love wrote a story for The Jewish Post & News about former Winnipegger Megan Kravetsky.
How I happened to give Myron that particular assignment was an interesting story in itself. I had begun delivering Meals on Wheels for the Gwen Secter Centre in the summer of 2021 – which, if you can recall, was a period when we were still enduing periodic shutdowns due to Covid. As a result, the Gwen Secter Centre stepped up the number of meals that it began producing – not only for Jewish clients, but for hundreds of non-Jewish clients as well.
I wrote several times about the incredible effort that the staff at Gwen Secter put into producing what ultimately became over 600 meals a week, but that’s not the point of this story. This story is about food though, so there’s a connection.
In any event, beginning in the fall of 2021 I began delivering kosher meals for Gwen Secter on a weekly basis to a number of clients, some of whom some have remained on my list ever since.
One of those clients was a woman by the name of Joanne Field. Like most of my Meals on Wheels clients I developed a nice rapport with Joanne. One day she asked me if I’d be interested doing to do a story about her granddaughter, whose name she told me, was Megan Kravetsky. According to Joanne, Megan had been operating a popular restaurant in Puerto Vallarta by the name of Blake’s Bar & Grill, and Joanne thought that readers of the paper who might be heading to Puerto Vallarta that winter would be interested in dropping into Blake’s.
As it turned out, I asked Myron Love to do that story instead of doing it myself because we were coming up to our Chanukah issue at the time and I didn’t have time to talk to Megan and write a story – but I did think that the Chanukah issue presented the perfect opportunity to let readers know about Megan and her restaurant.
That was in December 2021 and, even though my wife and I have been to the Puerto Vallarta area several times – and really love it there, what with Covid putting a crimp in travel plans for several years, it wasn’t until this year that I had the opportunity to head back to Puerto Vallarta. While I was there, I thought, I’d like to touch base with Megan and visit Blake’s myself.
Which is how I came to do a completely different type of story than I expected to write.
You see, Megan Kravetsky’s experiences in Mexico can fill a book – and a good part of that would be a horror story. Try this one on for size: Not only was her business badly affected by Covid in 2020 – just after she had moved into what was then the second location for Blake’s – after having moved from the first location because it was just too small – this past October, after having moved yet again into a different location for Blake’s in what Megan thought was going to be a great location – Hurricane Lidia swept through Puerto Vallarta and Blake’s was forced to close down.
Still, Megan persevered. She had opened another small pop-up restaurant last May called Drop Shot Chill n Grill in an area well known to many Winnipeggers who spend time in Puerto Vallarta, near what is known as the hotel zone. But, in another series of unfortunate circumstances, this time having to do with a very nasty landlady (who repeatedly cut off the electricity to Drop Shot), Megan was forced yet again to close down.
Read on and you’ll find out about the long string of unfortunate events that seem to have accompanied Megan ever since she decided to move to Mexico in 2018, but once you finish reading the story you’re bound to have an immense amount of admiration at how resilient Megan has proven to be.
Here’s some of what Myron wrote in his December 2021 story: “Three years ago, the veteran chef and restaurant consultant came across a deal she couldn’t refuse when she took advantage of an opportunity to buy Blake’s Restaurant and Bar, an established operation in Puerto Vallarta. Megan is now happily living year round in Mexico.
“Now, in truth, the former River Heights kid (Brock Corydon and Grant Park) was no stranger to the Mexican resort community. She notes that her parents, Charles (whose mother is Joanne Field) and Vivian Kravetsky, are long time seasonal residents of the city – spending six months a year there and six months in Winnipeg – and she had visited many times over the years.
“ ‘It was perfect timing,’ she says of her move to Puerto Vallarta.
“ ‘The first year was tough,’ she adds.  ‘My Spanish was limited – which made it sometimes difficult to communicate with my staff.  Now I am fluent.’
“Kravetsky notes that her original career goal was to become a lawyer (like her father). ‘After five years of university (the University of Manitoba), I realized that that was not what I wanted to do, she recalls. 
“Instead, she earned a business degree in management and marketing and went to work in the restaurant industry. She had worked in the restaurant trade part time throughout university.  Over the next 15 years, Kravetsky worked successively for the McDonalds chain, Moxie’s, the Olive Garden and Montana Steak House.”
Before I met with Megan on March 16 – at the location of the most recent incarnation of Blake’s Bar & Grill in the port area of Puerto Vallarta known as Puerto Magico, which is where passengers from cruise ships disembark, I had a chance to see for myself the damage that Hurricane Lidia had done to her restaurant. The interior was all covered with tarp, but I was able to see through a hole in the tarp. I was quite surprised to see that the restaurant itself was largely intact – tables and chairs all in place, dishes, utensils and cooking equipment all in place, but the windows to the outside were all blown out. That piqued my curiosity and became the subject of part of our conversation.
Still, as my wife Meachelle and I sat down with Megan to enjoy a beverage in a nearby coffee shop and listen to her story, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Megan’s very positive attitude. As it turns out, Megan had been in my son Jordy’s class at Brock Corydon School (of which I was not aware. Also, somewhat coincidentally, Jordy, who now goes by the name Jitendradas Loveslife, also lives in Mexico, in a town populated by New Age former hippies known as Ajijic.)
I asked Megan how she came to own a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta?
Megan explained that she had gone about as far as she could as a restaurant manger in Winnipeg. As Myron noted, Megan had worked for McDonald’s, Montana’s (helping to open their Kenaston location where she worked as a line cook), Moxie’s Bar & Grill, Olive Garden, also Famous Dave’s – all before she had even turned 30.

The first Blake’s Bar – which Megan bought in 2018, but which was badly affected by Covid because it was so small and tables had to have six feet distance between


Megan had been traveling to Mexico with her parents and siblings for years, she told me, and fell in love with the country. So, in 2018, she took all the savings she had accumulated and bought Blake’s Bar & Grill in downtown Puerto Vallarta, which had first opened in 2006. Before she was able move to Mexico though, Megan had to acquire a residency permit – which was no easy task, she explained.
You see, in order to purchase a business in Mexico, one needs something called an “RFC” (which translates from the Spanish to Federal Taxpayers Number).
As Megan told us, “without that (the RFC) you can’t purchase cars, housing, anything. I got my residency before I moved down. You have to do your residency out of country.”
I asked her how she could become a Mexican resident while still in Canada?
She said, “You apply, you have to make a certain amount of money. So I applied three times – within a six month period. I went to Toronto twice. Applied. Denied. Both times. Went to Calgary” – and finally got her residency permit.
But, there’s something else Megan explained that made the challenge of buying Blake’s even more difficult: She wasn’t able to finance the purchase – she had to pay cash entirely – something, we were also told, is par for the course for just about any major purchase in Mexico, including houses.
But, just because Megan was able to buy Blake’s, she wasn’t able to work in her own restaurant, she told me, until she had a work permit. As she explained, “…so you get one year temporary residency, then you apply for a three year extension after that, and then after that, then you apply for your permanent residency. But temporary residency doesn’t include a work permit. That’s the biggest thing, so I had to apply for my work permit to be attached to my temporary residency.”
Megan, however, had forgotten to apply for a work permit – which she would have needed to work in her own restaurant. “But,” she explained, “then when my daughter was born (in 2019) – because she’s Mexican, I automatically became a permanent resident. So I didn’t have to wait for four years – I only waited two (to become a permanent resident)” – thus allowing her to work in her own restaurant.
Now, while Megan’s initial foray into the restaurant business was quite successful, the first Blake’s Bar was too small to accommodate the high number of customers it was attracting. As Megan put it, “the place was too small. It was a very small… very small restaurant.”
And then, in 2020, Covid hit. While Mexico had no sort of rules requiring masking in public places, it did institute rules governing social distancing – with a six feet distance required between tables. “We could only have two or three tables in at one time during high season,” Megan said.

The second Blake’s Bar – opened in 2021 but which had to close because the landlady didn’t want to pay her taxes

So, in 2021, Megan moved to another location in Puerto Vallarta, in an area known as Plaza Santa Maria. Things were going really well in that new location. It had become a very popular spot for Canadians, especially Winnipeggers, as Megan made sure all Winnipeg Jets games were shown there. (Megan was in that location when Myron contacted her and she was brimming with confidence when she spoke to him about how well things were going.)
There was one major problem, however, as Megan explained: “The landowner there didn’t pay her taxes. So when you went to go take out your licensing, you have to show proof the taxes are. And if they’re not paid, then you can’t take out your licensing. And she owed back taxes of almost five years, which was over 300,000” (pesos – or about $22,000 Canadian dollars).
“And she didn’t want to pay it. So I had no choice,” Megan noted. As a result, after only one year in what had been a very successful location – even if only for a short while, Megan moved yet again, in 2022 – this time to the Puerto Magico location.

The third Blake’s Bar – opened in 2022 but closed in October 2023 when Hurricane Lidia tore out all the windows – and the landlord hasn’t replaced them


The owners of the building where Megan opened what by then had become the third location for Blake’s in only four years had induced her to move there with all sorts of promises, she said: “They had promised us numerous things that they never completed. The passport office was supposed to open upstairs two years ago. Still not open. Another restaurant was supposed to be up there. We were just alone up there. There’s nothing. They made it impossible for guests to get up the stairs. They wouldn’t fix the elevator. It still doesn’t work to this day. It’s been three years…and the whole thing with that is they don’t want to pay the electricity to have the elevator working.
“So they just made it impossible for the cruise ship people to get upstairs or any people in general to get upstairs.” On top of all that, the owners of Puerto Magico didn’t allow Megan to have any signage on the street which would have told tourists that Blake’s Bar was there.
Still, Megan might have been able to turn things around were it not for that hurricane last October. She had developed a great reputation as a restaurateur. (Just take a look at the glowing reviews on Tripadvisor for Blake’s Bar). In addition, Megan is a fantastic baker and she had opened a bakery known called Sweet Temptations Bakery Boutique next door to Blake’s in Puerto Magico. That closed too the same time as Blake’s when the hurricane hit.
You’d think, however, that notwithstanding the damage that a hurricane might have caused, it would just be a matter of time before things could have been repaired and Blake’s would have been back in business – but that wasn’t the case.
While the interior of the restaurant was left largely intact, the windows had all been blown out. So, it’s just a matter of replacing the windows – right? Or, so you’d think. But this is Mexico – and similar to the landlady who didn’t want to pay her taxes in Blake’s previous location, the owners of Puerto Magico haven’t moved to replace the windows that were blown out.
Here’s how Megan described what happened: “So, the whole thing here, after the hurricane hit, when you construct a building here, the windows and doors are property of the plaza. Doesn’t matter if you put them in, they put them in, it’s property of the plaza. You can’t leave with them. Yeah. Same with the floor. So when the hurricane came through and destroyed everything, the first thing they said to me is our insurance will cover it, our insurance is going to cover it, it’s our property.
“So we waited and waited and waited and waited and about two and a half to three months in, they said, nah, our insurance actually isn’t going to cover it. At that point, my own insurance wouldn’t cover it anymore. It has to be done within 24 hours. That’s just how it is.” (Note to readers: Anyone from Winnipeg could identify with Megan. A building burns down and a pile of rubble remains for years. A bridge closes because it’s unsafe and it sits there – unusable, but with no plan to replace it.)
Not one to let anything get her down though, Megan still had her pop-up restaurant, Drop Shot Chill n Grill. As I mentioned at the beginning of this story though, just recently that site too had to close down.
This time it was the landlady who owned the area where Drop Shot was located that forced Megan to close. While Megan leased the space for her location from an individual who didn’t actually own the land where Drop Shot was situated, he had tennis and pickleball courts there. Apparently though, the woman who actually owned the land didn’t like the loud music coming from Drop Shot – even though it wasn’t in a residential area at all.
Again, here’s how Megan described the situation: “In our contract it stated that I was allowed to have live music, barbecue, blah, blah, blah. The landowner who owns the land, who I don’t lease from, owns the hotel behind the parking where the tennis courts are. And she doesn’t like noise. She doesn’t like any noise. Yet, they have music and tennis tournaments and fairs and they have the food park and all that.
“So, during our live music, she would complain constantly, even though our music was only from 3 to 6 – that her guests, one guest in particular, couldn’t sleep – it was too loud. We always abided by the decibel restriction limit; it was never over the decibel limit.”
The story continued: “So she cut our electricity off once when we had the live music – but the second time she did it, I had a generator. She didn’t know that I had a generator going. So she had cut the electricity, but the music was still playing. So at that point she would call the ‘reglamentals’ – the bylaw officers, who would come check and she’d say, ‘There’s really loud music going on at Drop Shot.’ They would come, they would check, they’d check my permits, everything would be okay, they’d leave. That’s when I called the police on her. They’re my friends. They had a very long conversation with her… told her that it’s illegal to cut the electricity, she can’t do it.”
But, as you might expect, the landlady wasn’t about to back down. “It got to the point where she threatened the guy who I was subleasing from that if he didn’t get rid of me, she was going to get rid of everybody.
“She wouldn’t re sign the contract with him. So he’s had his tennis courts and pickleball courts there for over five years. And she said, ‘if I don’t leave, then everybody’s leaving.’ “
So, once again, Megan has had to abandon what had turned into a successful venture – but after dealing with Covid, a landlady who didn’t want to pay taxes, a hurricane, and a landlady who doesn’t like loud music, you’d have to wonder whether Megan is still willing to enter into yet another food venture?
Not surprisingly, she said she is. I asked her “How real is that? How feasible or viable?”
“Oh, it’s very viable,” she answered. “We’re just waiting on the contract to be signed.” Megan added that she has someone who she wouldn’t describe as a partner in her putative venture, but somebody “that’s going to help me.”
Throughout our conversation I had refrained from bringing up the subject that surely must be in the back of many a reader’s mind when it comes to thinking about doing business in Mexico: What about the cartels? Has Megan had any run-ins with the local cartel I wondered? (And when it comes to cartels, Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco. Anyone who knows anything about Mexican cartels would know that the Jalisco cartel has a reputation for extreme violence.)
Megan answered though that “They’re not really that visible here… They keep it very under the table here.”
I said though that “the Jalisco cartel is notorious.”
But, Megan responded, “that’s more towards Sinaloa and Chihuahua.”
Still, given Mexico’s longstanding reputation for corruption at almost every level, I asked Megan, “Did you have to pay off people?”
She answered: No, never, never, never had to pay anybody off. You give back and then, you know, everybody takes care of each other.” She went on to describe the excellent rapport she has had with the local police, for whom she has catered a huge feast known as a “masada” every year, at which over 400 police have attended.
It’s hard to imagine someone coming down to Mexico and, within the space of only six years, opening restaurants (and closing them) in four different locations, yet still remaining optimistic that she’ll be able to open a fifth in short order.
If and when Megan does open another restaurant – I’d sure like to try the food. If the reviews she received on Tripadvisor for each of her locations are any indication, one thing Megan Kravetsky knows is how to prepare great food – and leave her customers with a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

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Features

Memoir of Hungarian Holocaust survivor who worked in Auschwitz camp hospital recently translated into English

Review by JULIE KIRSH (former Sun Media News Research Director)
In order to avoid a death march, my weak, ailing, Hungarian Jewish father dug a hole on the grounds of Buchenwald. He pulled a dead man’s body over his own. The unfortunate man had died of typhus, which my father also caught.
On April 11, 1945, the US army entered Buchenwald and rescued my father. He spent three weeks in a Red Cross camp recovering from typhus and starvation before making his way back home. Once he reached home in Hungary, he spent eight months in a sanatorium before being restored back to health.

With that as preamble, I had a particular interest in reading the memoir of another Holocaust survivor, József Debreczeni: “Cold Crematorium: Reflections from the Land of Auschwitz.”
The reader learns that the “Cold Crematorium” of József Debreczeni’s memoir was the Dornhau “camp hospital”. Dornhau was the headquarters of a vast network of concentration and slave labour camps in World War II. In April 1944, Debreczeni was deported to Auschwitz from his home in Serbia. He was a slave labourer in three subcamps that were satellites of Gross-Rosen, which Debreczeni refers to as the “Land of Auschwitz.”
With his journalist’s eye for detail, Debreczeni makes the inexplicable horrors of his experience come alive for the reader. The terrible suffering of hunger, the back breaking labour for slaves who were once doctors, lawyers, and businessmen before the war, are all described in the book. Even an addiction to tobacco becomes for some as important as food. The reader feels the frost and cold of winter in 1944 for the inmates – who were without shoes and underwear – and only rags for clothing.
Debreczeni’s description of the Dornhau hospital forces the reader to confront a madhouse: “We’ve wound up among raving maniacs. A dizzing cacophony of moaning, whimpering, shrieking, whining and delirious snarling. The underworld is seething”.
Some of Debreczeni’s writing is sardonic. He tells of a hierarchy of “nobility” in the hospital. Once honourable physicians in Hungary are forced to become part of the Nazi killing machine. However, the newly arrived doctors and medical students remain “stuck outside of Eden.”
Similar to my father, Debreczeni, burning with fever, pulls a dead man’s lice-ridden blanket over his emaciated body. He is “burning in the cold crematorium.”
Night in Dornhau is described in a heart rending fashion. Six hundred men are pressed close together. Every third person is dying.
At “Appell” next morning, the dead are counted. The black humour continues with the inmates coming up with a variation: “Report if you are dead”.
In December,1944, Dornhau had become a hub, a repository for prisoners who were close to death. Debreczeni remarks that the Nazis were “in the grips of the psychosis of anxiety that comes with sensing the end.” Still the death machine grinds onward with the few survivors dying even as liberation draws near. In the last days of the horror, the food rations drop even further.
Debreczeni pays honour and shows compassion to his fellow prisoners: Bergman, Herz, Gleiwitz, Nébel and others, by describing their origins and final fates.
In the last days, typhus breaks out in Dornhau. Diarrhea, edema and high fever are raging. With suitable nourishment and draining of the body’s water, my father survived typhus. Most did not.
Reading the final pages of Cold Crematorium was among the most anxious readings of my life. Despite a vision of liberation and the Russian army only seven kilometers away, the SS guards still lock the exit gates each evening. Finally, liberation arrives. Debreczeni is nursed back to health by Russian nurses. Reporters and journalists pour into Dornhau and are described as “Martians of the universe beyond the barbed wire.”
Cold Crematorium was first published in Hungarian in 1950, as a haunting memoir, sparing no harsh words for the SS and their collaborators, but also a telling reminder of how the world forgets.
More than seventy years later, Cold Crematorium is reaching a wider audience with its translation into English and several other languages. The book has helped me understand the last days leading up to liberation and gives me further insight into my father’s remarkable survival.

“Cold Crematorium: Reflections from the Land of Auschwitz”
By József Debreczeni
Translated from the Hungarian by Paul Olchváry (St. Martin’s Press, 2023)

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