I first heard of Kosmo’s Space Cowboy Food Cantina the way one seems to learn of anything worthwhile these days—total hearsay gleaned from friends’ hastily snapped Instagram stories of greasy takeout bags and half eaten burgers. It was as if they couldn’t wait a single second to bother properly capturing their meals before biting in.
Soon enough, Kosmo’s content was coming from celebrated chefs across the city appearing out of nowhere with no fixed address and no hint as to who was behind its saucy burgers and tots, cheeky IG captions and hilarious catalog of hashtags trailing every post.
Kosmo’s is a ghost kitchen— essentially, a food prep space without a traditional dine-in area, instead offering take-out only. This idea of a completely ‘virtual brand’ is not new, but one that’s been gaining traction as the restaurant industry struggles under tightening dining room restrictions amidst the pandemic. Kosmo’s is a true pandemic baby, first opening during Winnipeg’s code orange in late October.
It’s since been revealed that the boys behind the burgers are Stefan Lytwyn (previously at deer + almond, RAW: almond) and his cousin, Nyk Bielak - originally a Winnipegger hailing from Garden City, who spent the last several years as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon on Broadway before touring the show throughout Australia and New Zealand, which is the coolest backstory ever (he’s been in Winnipeg since March because of COVID-19 shutdowns).
“We saw an opportunity with everyone being at home during the pandemic to start a restaurant where we can offer people a really fun, unique takeout experience and do things our own way,” explains Bielak.
“What would we like to eat if we were ordering in? It's been really awesome getting to be goofy and funny and lighthearted and bring some light into everyone's lives. It’s something different than McDonalds, [which is] big and corporate. If we can make people laugh and create an environment online, that’s what we’re gonna do.”
If being goofy and bringing laughter is the goal, these guys have succeeded. It only takes a quick glance at their Instagram page and website to recognize their totally lighthearted approach to food. Funky cartoon cowboy graphics, a dedicated Kosmo’s hotline for ordering and their signature catchphrase “it is what it is” are peppered throughout the posts and pages.
“It's very hard to describe...super 420,” jokes Lytwyn of their brand.
Kosmo’s now offers pick-up from their unassuming kitchen space in the basement of the German Society of Winnipeg. It’s here, at 121 Charles Street, that I find myself in a dimly lit parking lot on a Saturday night, waiting for Bielak to run my order out to my car. As soon as he does (he’s the friendliest, most easygoing person you could ever hope to meet in an otherwise abandoned parking lot, by the way) I make my way home, excited by this entirely strange, mysterious takeout experience and the delicious scent of comfort food now filling my car.
The highlight of the meal for me, and probably most millennials seeking familiar childhood flavours and hearty dishes during these trying times, are the crispy, spicy tater tots and Flamin' Hot Cheetos Mac 'n Cheese. I’ve been told I missed out on Kosmo’s biggest hit, the Golden Gal burger (only offered for one week) but the two burgers I did try—the spiciiii fried chicken and the pork belly burger, which features house made ranch, American cheese and an entire hash brown patty sandwiched between two buns — were layered full of flavour.
Overall, the menu is charmingly compact. Your choice of three rotating burgers (including a hangover burger available some Saturdays from 11 p.m. to 3 p.m.) with a side of slaw or tater tots. The aforementioned mac ‘n cheese and a handful of house made dipping sauces are also available, including Kosmo’s secret sauce and a gochujang mayo. Much of the menu's niche ingredients are sourced in Chinatown and the city’s international grocery stores.
As for the future of the pandemic project Kosmo’s Space Cowboy Food Cantina?
“It’s thrown any plans that either of us had for a loop,” says Bielak. “For me personally, being an actor and working in the theatre, we were one of the first people to get cut and we’ll probably be one of the last people back. But I’ve been having the time of my life and it’s been such a blast. It’s been really nice to be back in Winnipeg.”
Kosmo’s is open for take-out and delivery Tuesday to Saturday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.