01/24/2013 19:40 EST | Updated 03/26/2013 05:12 EDT

Paddlewheel Restaurant serves its last meal

Winnipeg's iconic Paddlewheel Restaurant closed early on its last day of business Thursday, after an unexpected turnout left staff without enough food to serve to any more customers.

The cafeteria-style eatery on the sixth floor of The Bay at Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard opened in October 1954 and has served generations of Winnipeggers.

Known for its steamship facade that gave the illusion of being on a paddlewheel deck, complete with painted steam clouds on the ceiling, the restaurant was immensely popular at one time.

But in recent years, the expansive dining area has more resembled a ghost ship.

On Thursday, however, it was like old times with lineups and full tables.

Lynn Squair, who showed up for one last time, said losing the restaurant — and the grocery store in the basement at The Bay — is a big loss for people in the inner city.

"This is an institution. My sister and I have been coming here since we were little girls with our parents," she said.

"We used to come here for the Santa's Breakfast. I had to make the pilgrimage [to come one last time]."

The iconic restaurant was slated to get a major makeover as part of The Bay's move to rework itself as a high-end department store. In addition to the Paddlewheel, restaurants in Bay locations in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Moncton, Regina, and Kelowna, were among those set for renovations.

The department store announced that plan in February 2011, saying it was partnering with upscale restaurant operator Oliver & Bonacini and food services company Compass Group Canada.

But earlier this month, officials with the Hudson's Bay Company and the Compass Group announced the Paddlewheel would shut down on Jan. 24. There is no word on what will take its place or whether restaurants in other Bay locations will still be redone.

The restaurant received such a high turnout on its final day that it had to close early. By 2 p.m., the restaurant had run out of food and was no longer serving customers.

Filmmaker Guy Maddin gave the restaurant a cameo in his 2008 film, My Winnipeg, as a place where the fictional Golden Boy "man pageants" were judged by Mayor Cornish.