A taste of 2010 success

Amidst all the infuriating roadwork and other inconveniences that have supposedly transformed Whistlerites into a "cranky and cantankerous" bunch, there's at least one pair of local business people that are looking forward to the 2010 Olympics with a sense of pure excitement.

Grant and Hilarie Cousar are the husband and wife team behind Whistler Cooks, a successful little catering business that has rapidly gained a loyal following since it was founded in 1999. Their high-end cuisine is augmented by custom sauces they bottle and sell. But it's a little catering business no longer, thanks to the 2010 Olympics.

The Cousars have jumped (or fallen, as Grant pondered with a laugh) headfirst into the Olympic fray, successfully bidding for the food service contract at the Whistler Olympic Park and the sliding centre during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"It's a sort of term-by-term project," Grant explained, adding that they completed a separate contract last winter which saw them launching food service at the day lodge at Whistler Olympic Park, including concessions. They also handled on-site concessions at the Whistler Sliding Centre during the World Cup events.

For the 2009-2010 season, they'll again be handling concessions and catering for the two Whistler venues, but this time around, because of the Games, it's a whole different ballgame.

This winter is unique in that the day lodge won't even be open to the public until the Games, as that part of the park is shut down in preparation for the February event.

"So this year, the winter plan is there will be skiing out of Callaghan Country's parking lot," Grant explained. Whistler Cooks will be trying to set up some sort of snack hut at the site.

During the Games, Whistler Cooks will be bringing in mobile kitchens and tents, where they'll prepare and sell warm, grab-and-go fare like soup, chili and hot sandwiches, similar to what you can get during a day of skiing or snowboarding on the mountains.

"We're hoping to really blow people away... and I can't divulge the whole menu, but I can tell you that we're trying to get a couple little local things slid in there."

Ultimately, the Cousars decided to throw their hats into the Olympic rings because they've had a longtime dream of being part of the international event since they heard rumblings about it years ago.

"I was like 'wow, I want to be here,' and that was when I was fairly young in this town and not concrete, and the dream and the possibility of that was always something that I was quite attached to."

When Vancouver was chosen to host the Games in 2003 the Cousars saw this not only as an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for their business, but for their family to experience too.

"Our children were five and one at that time, and the thought that they could grow up in this legacy-building, we just couldn't believe how lucky we were."

Now, their whole family has gotten involved, learning to cross country ski, and even the in-laws have gotten into the Olympic act as volunteers.

That isn't to say that the experience has been stress-free. At some points, they were pulling 85-hour work weeks to get proposals done. And they're currently in the process of hiring around 200 staff members - more than twice the number they had under their wings last season.

Grant says it will be worth all of the hard work if he gets to see a Canadian win a medal.

"Its tremendous. We feel so lucky and fortunate to be doing it. We hope that we get to make the community proud with our efforts and that we get to have the community as involved in our project as possible."

But he also understands why, on a local level, so much of the response to the Olympics has been negative.

"People are scared, rightfully," he reflected. "Our town is going to get turned upside down, and so its a lot easier to embrace... what you know, and I think there's parts of this town and this economy where we're all realizing that there's some complacency that we've all gotten used to, and we can't have that. To me, this is the perfect sort of economic kick in the butt to make us really get a good look at who we are, for all the positives and the negatives."

While the Olympic experience has opened a lot of doors for Whistler Cooks, and helped to solidify their business plan and business ability, Grant concedes that he doubts they'll continue operating at the Olympic scale and size.

"Is there another party the size of the Olympics planning on coming to Whistler in the next lifetime?"



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