Handing over the reins 

Long-time restaurant, local’s hangout changes ownership, but will remain open to community

Mike Richman has owned and operated Pemberton's infamous Pony Espresso for almost 15 years, transforming it from a glorified shack into a successful, beloved establishment that claims almost every award in the dining section of Pique's Best of Pemberton awards.

He originally took over the Pony when it was just a tiny café with three tables, expanding the business as the years passed. Finally, about three years ago, he and his wife, Tanya, moved the business to its current spot, which features a dining room and bar, and opened up the opportunity to bring in more live music.

"When I got here, I think there was 800 people or something like that - it was quite a small town - and there were very few people living in Pemberton that were working in Whistler. That was unheard of at that point," he recalled. "So it was pretty much just the old agricultural and logging community."

As the years passed, they started to see more and more young people move into the valley, trickling into the Pony, one by one.

"At any given day at the Pony, if you come in, there'll be a little old Native guy playing the guitar in a cowboy hat, loggers, hippies, tons of little kids," he said. "So, when you come into the Pony, you often get a good picture of the demographics of our town."

But the time has finally come for Richman to move on.

"I've been doing this for 15 years. I started when I was 24 and I'm going on 40," he pointed out.

Though he wasn't out looking to sell, Richman was actually approached by the owners and operators of the Fat Duck at the Pemberton Valley Vineyards, who plan to expand their operations this year.

Also a longtime local resident, Richman has no plans to leave the community just yet. In fact, the main reason for the decision to sell his bustling business was to spend more time with his two young children.

"It sort of snuck up on me a little bit, and it's a bit of a bittersweet move," he said. "It's been a big part of my life, and I really enjoy working with the staff and crew here, and the customers in Pemberton are a whole different scene than in Whistler or Vancouver - it's very, very local-based."

In fact, in the early years when they would shut down to do improvements and renovations, some of the clientele would actually come in to lend a hand.

"They took a sort of ownership to the Pony," Richman said with a laugh. "I think a lot of people feel that the Pony belongs to Pemberton."

He hopes the new owners will keep the staff and elements of the Pony that have made it so popular over the years, though the new owners do plan to put their own distinct stamp on the business, complete with renos.

"I'm sure the community will still come, and I have a lot of confidence in these guys," he said.

Richman plans to leave the Pony in style, hosting two weekends chock-full of fun and live music, stating Friday, April 3 and Saturday, April 4 and continuing next weekend. Featured performers Chris Jamieson, Jon Shrier, Jay Greenway, Gord Rutherford and Papa Josh are all artists that have supported the Pony over the years.

"Gord Rutherford, for instance, did one of my very first parties 15 years ago and has been doing it ever since," Richman said. "Papa Josh has played here a ton of times and he's sort of a foundation for the local music in my place. So I went to all the local guys who have supported me on a very low budget over the years."

When they closed the Pony last time to move to the new location, they set up tents outdoors, with close to 1,000 people coming by during the day.

"Hopefully, over the course of three days, we get to see all the friendly faces," he said.

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