The OK Cafe in Vanderhoof got a new contractor this year and he says the response from the community has been tremendous.
Michael K. Pockett, the owner of the Salted Cracker, a Prince George based company came into Vanderhoof and bid for the food service contract at OK Cafe. They started operating in the District in May this year and Pockett said the support he has received from the community has been phenomenal.
“Vanderhoof has been great. Even on social media people have been so kind to us, it is heartwarming,” he said.
Pockett said the company came to Vanderhoof to do some market research to understand whether there was a demand for the kind of food he is offering.
He said they are hoping to open a year-round restaurant in Vanderhoof preferably on the Highway 16 corridor, but will confirm that once they have facts and figures from the summer operation.
“We are definitely still discussing it. We are seeing what the numbers look like first, we are a business at the end of the day. But we have already started looking at potential places we could move to. Being a smaller town there are limited spaces. We probably won’t stay open here year-round, as it is a historical building and the infrastructure is not set up for it,” Pockett added.
He said mayor and council have expressed a desire for the Salted Cracker to be back running the OK Cafe next summer.
In Prince George, the Salted Cracker is a quick-serve style restaurant where people come to the counter, order and are given take-out. But for Vanderhoof, Pockett said, they are trying out a different style by having a full-service restaurant.
The idea is to do a high-end wholesome fast food restaurant, Pockett said, noting that is where they got their niche.
“Everything we do is made in-house. We have a dozen people in our kitchen chopping vegetables. We go through two thousand pounds of produce a week. It is a massive production,” he said.
Pockett has a total of 70 employees on his pay-roll in his restaurants in Prince George and Vanderhoof and says he wouldn’t have been successful if it wasn’t for them.
A majority of the staff hired by him to run the Cafe in Vanderhoof are locals, with two or three staff from Prince George.
“I couldn’t have done this without staff. And a lot of owners don’t realise that. It’s all me, me, me. And no, its not possible to do it without amazing staff. And for that, you have to pay amazingly. My executive chef in Prince George is the highest paid chef in the city. It’s because I want quality and for that you have to take care of your employees,” Pockett said.
As for future expansion, Pockett said his 10-year plan is to have 50 restaurants open across Western Canada.
“I started the Salted Cracker because I wanted a good bowl of soup. My favourite soup place closed down and I tried buying it but that didn’t work out and then a vacancy opened up,” he said.
Pockett opened the restaurant in Prince George and was serving 8 soups everyday and within five years, he has managed to open 5 restaurants. He reiterated that without the constant support of his employees, he would not have made it.
He says his restaurant is best suited for winter cities and he wants to open over 20 restaurants in Edmonton alone. The other city he is looking at is Quesnel.
Meanwhile, running 5 restaurants and a retail store keeps Pockett fairly busy but he lives with a mantra which he said he has written on his fridge.
“Pain is temporary and the success it brings is everlasting. I go by that from my heart. It is tough now for sure, but I want to have a good retirement, so I will have to go through that pain now to achieve that success. I enjoy working and being able to take care of 70 employees. And when there are visitors to the restaurant who tell me my food is amazing or they really enjoyed themselves, I thrive on that. It’s been a great journey and I am looking forward to the future,” Pockett added.
Editor’s note – The story’s headline was updated on Tuesday, July 9 to say contractor and not owner.