In the last month, a local restaurant closed its doors for good, a brand-new restaurant opened, and another restaurant started a massive renovation.
These mixed messages are an indication of the difficult but fruitful business realities in the food industry.
The recent casualty was A&A Burger Bar on Central Street, which shut its doors after five years of business. The same building has hosted several eateries in recent years, its height of popularity coinciding with the Yellowhead Inn next door but that burned down in 2003.
Life at the family cafe was never the same after that, said Mary Jarbek, who ran the place back then as McLeod Nine Eatery until selling to different operators.
"It was one of the better locations at one time, but with the new restaurants and pubs and other commercial developments that opened up in that area, I think that favourable location changed," said Jarbek, who is now out of the food industry as an operator but co-chairs the Prince George branch of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association. "It is unfortunate to lose a business, and we never like to see that kind of thing happen, but it is tough for a family style restaurant to compete. There are so many franchises now, especially in that area, that it can make it rough for the independents."
The city, though, is ripe for restaurateurs, Jarbek said. That is one of the reasons the association went from years of dormancy to relaunching in the past few months.
"Our city's population is growing again, the outlying areas are experiencing economic growth, and there is a level of food appreciation in the public that has never been there before," she said. "You've got a wide variety of restaurants and cafes and caterers and pubs, and they all have different menus and different hours of operation, in different locations. It is wonderful to have a variety of places and I think 2013 is already shaping up to be one of the best ever in P.G. for that kind of selection."
Meanwhile, the doors are closing today on one of the city's seminal food establishments - temporarily. Mr. Jake's Steakhouse has been operating on Third Avenue near Victoria Street for the past 47 years, and now an investment is being made to keep the business healthy for years to come.
Although partners have been involved in the establishment over the years - primarily John Giannisis and Kostas Zarikos in supporting roles - the business has been the family affair for Nicke and Alex Sr. Maritsas. Now their sons Alex Jr. and Stamat are the principal operators, but the massive renovation project is not them trying to rid themselves of past surroundings.
"My main concern is energy efficiency," said Stamat Maritsas. "This is an old building, things have broken down and technology has improved so we have to pay heavy energy bills compared to other small businesses. There are headaches we have to deal with that we try to keep away from the customer, but it is a building that needs to be improved. We want to keep the same concept, the same food, but it's a rebuild of the whole building. We are trying to implement higher ceilings, more light, but mostly to be more energy efficient."
Their mother is especially nostalgic about the long renovation project, said Maritsas, and he feels some of that himself.
"There is a lot of family history here. My mom and dad had their wedding reception here. I've been here since I was a boy, same as my brother, and now it's our kids running around. Obviously it's a sad day to close down but we have had very, very, very loyal customers. So the last thing we want is to have it change too much on them. We want to keep the same concepts alive in here."
The whole downtown and its food services sector has Maritsas family history, but there is no concern over the new and popular cafes and restaurants that have opened in the past few years all around Mr. Jake's.
One of those new establishments is The Copper Pig on George Street, less than eight weeks old. Maritsas said the downtown is not seeing an influx as much as a changeover.
"Definitely [the competition] is not worrisome; we want people to come downtown," he said. "People thinking about downtown is a good thing. It's not about competing against them, it is about more people coming downtown. Every one of those restaurants is different."
When he opened the doors of The Copper Pig, Tyler Burbee believed the same thing so much so that he named drinks on his menus after some of his favourite neighbouring restaurants. He frequents many of them himself, and the staff and proprietors of those places come sit at his tables, too. This claim was confirmed by the staff of some of those other places around downtown.
"People told me to open up a restaurant in College Heights, and that is definitely an under-serviced area, but I wanted to do something good for downtown," said Burbee, who was born and raised in this city. He has been training and working in the food services industry for most of his life. "I moved away to Vancouver where I thought it was more exciting, and the years I spent there made me fall in love with Prince George. I don't know how to open a dentist office or a condo high-rise; this is what I know how to do, and I wanted to do it downtown."
He couldn't get more downtown than historic George Street, in a vacant building that was Nick's Place when he was a youth, and started out as The Shasta, a restaurant so iconic that it is on the city's official heritage walking tour.
"We've already had some old timers come in for a meal and tell us about coming here to get a pop after the movies or out on a date," Burbee said. "I even met the grandson of the original owner of The Shasta. He's been in a few times and I love talking to him about how things used to be around here from that family's perspective."
Burbee agreed that he might sometimes gain some customers at the expense of one or other of the pre-existing downtown eateries, but he strongly believed that each of these places has a backbone audience different than the others and he also felt the overall crowd was getting bigger with additional people going out for a dining experience downtown.
"The best food in town is, no question, downtown," he said. "I feel an energy building up around that. If you do a good job of the food, and you are consistent, you should do well. Yes, I might take a bit of their pie, but I also think together we are growing the pie."
Jarbek was certain that none of the recent downtown openings was threatened by any of the others.
"People rarely just go to one place all the time. It balances out. You have to do a good job, obviously, and you have to do creative things to bring people in, especially at the slow times," she said. "As a restaurant operator, you have to be involved in your community. You need to get out there, you need to share, you need to get together. It is so important to network."