Grab-and-go restaurants strike Olympic gold

Sure, a few local restaurants adopted shameful price-gouging practices specially for the Olympic Games - jacking up menu prices, tacking on inflated mandatory gratuities and even limiting what can be ordered at certain times of the day.

But many others opted to take the high road instead, deciding to keep menu prices fixed and simply put their noses to the grindstone to make it through the 17-day "push."

So the big question is, did the Olympics pay off for them? I stopped into a few grab-and-go Whistler hot spots to find out how they fared.

Wayne Katz, owner of Zog's, Gone Bakery and Moguls, experienced the highs and lows of the Olympics from a business perspective. Zog's, which was located in a high-profile location directly across from CTV's temporary studio, doubled their normal sales. But that wasn't the case with Moguls, which is tucked away behind the Village Square Stage.

"You couldn't see it at all, it was covered up, and so, 'out of sight, out of mind,'" he said. Sales at Moguls were about the same as last year.

Gone Bakery, which is nestled in behind Armchair Books, exceeded last year's sales by a bit, a success Katz attributes to their wireless Internet access and computers.

"Sure enough, the money that we generated out of these computers was unbelievable; like a thousand times what we normally do."

Katz opted to open all three locations round-the-clock during the Games, and hired additional staff to ensure their workers didn't burn out in the process. A long-time local businessman, he also resisted a fleeting temptation to increase menu prices.

"I realized that if I did that, I would alienate a lot of people and for the short-term gain, that just wasn't in my thinking," Katz said. He personally saw some places charging upwards of $15 for a hamburger, while his businesses only charged $6 for the a similar item.

Cathy McGeough and her husband Paul have owned the Whistler location of Splitz Grill for almost three years.

"I don't know what we expected, but we thought that we wanted to be open for the locals," McGeough said.

Despite their tucked away location, McGeough theorizes that their reasonable price point and solid reputation contributed to success over the past three weeks.

"It's been much busier, its been awesome. We're pretty lucky in that it's always pretty steady," she said. "Even when some of the other places were not doing quite as well, our numbers are still good."

They didn't have to hire any additional staff because their existing workers stepped up to the plate and offered to work extra shifts during the Olympic period. In return, the McGeoughs gave tickets to staff to make sure that everyone had a chance to enjoy the Olympic experience.

To prepare for a potential 2010 onslaught, Splitz brought in more freezers and ordered extra stock. Paul came in every day before midnight and 6 a.m. to receive their orders. They also extended their hours until midnight. They made a point of keeping prices the same and handed out $2 discounts to each and every Olympic volunteer they encountered in hopes of drawing in new customers.

Their approach seems to have worked: they sold an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 items each day, which translates to about 700 burgers.

"For us, our very busiest day of the year is New Year's Day... and every day has been New Year's Day."

One of Splitz's big sellers during the Olympics was beer. While it's normally not a popular menu item, they kept their prices the same for the Games - $3.50 cans and $4.50 bottles - and sales went through the roof.

Ingrid's, located in the heart of the village, directly across from the Village Square stage, took a similar approach, stocking up on product, extending business hours and having staff take on additional shifts. They fared equally well.

Fiona Minton, co-owner of Ingrid's, said it was hard to prepare for just how busy they were going to be during the Olympics. They only increased the prices of a select few menu items slightly (the maximum increase was 45 cents) to help compensate for additional staffing and product costs.

"We didn't want to go down that road," Minton said.

The slightly increased prices weren't enough to turn crowds away; Ingrid's was slammed almost every day, particularly on nice days when people could grab a sandwich and sit outside in the sunshine. The second Saturday proved to be the busiest day, with a lineup out the front door for the entire day.

"It was just full-on from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., basically, with no break," she laughed. "A constant lineup."

And the party atmosphere in the village really helped keep spirits high.

"Everyone stepped up and really worked hard," Minton said. "I'm not sure how much longer we could have carried it on; I think we took everyone to the max!"




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