Smithers is experiencing a boom in the restaurant scene but the spread of new eateries is unlikely to survive the winter, according to Smithers Chamber of Commerce president Colin Bateman.
At least four new restaurants and a food truck have launched in Smithers in 2015 and more are scheduled to open before the New Year.
Two pizza restaurants, two curry houses, a food truck, a juicery and a cafe are among the new eateries.
Bateman, who owns the Aspen Inn and Riverhouse Restaurant, said the town had not had this many restaurants since he arrived in 2009.
He said new restaurateurs had capitalized on gaps in the local restaurant scene.
“The last couple of years have been a little bit difficult because there’s been a lack of restaurants,” he said.
“I think people have filled that niche and stepped towards it, it just happens that there was a lot of people that stepped towards it.”
Bateman said the competition was good for customers but businesses, including his own, were already feeling the impact of sharing their patronage.
He predicts the market will be strong enough to sustain the influx of new eateries until winter, when patronage drops with the slower tourist market.
Bateman said the colder months will make or break some local restaurants.
“It’s sad but the strong will survive and the weak ones will not,” he said.
“In a business where you don’t make very much money in the long-run, it’s going to be quite a lot of work for a lot of the smaller ones during the winter.”
He said he had already noticed other businesses offering discounts and deals to attract more patrons.
Bateman said business at his restaurant was still strong but he expects he will need to cut back on staff in winter, something he has not had to do in the past.
Chatters Pizzeria & Bistro co-owner Chris Morsund said he had already adapted his business to the changing market.
He said lunch traffic at his restaurant had been diminished by an increase in “grab-and-go” daytime dining options this year.
As a result, Morsund dialled back the pizzeria’s hours to evening only and increased its focus on a line of packaged pizzas it sells at supermarkets throughout the Northwest.
“You kind of have to go on the quality of your product and you have to go with your name and you just kind of hope that people keep supporting you and kind of roll with it,” he said.
“The main thing is that you adapt to what they are doing but you don’t sacrifice what quality you put into your product.”
Morsund said Smithers had a big appetite for pizza but predicted a piece of the pie would be lost by everybody.
“You’d be surprised how many pizza lovers there are in Smithers and around this area, it’s crazy,” said Morsund.
“Obviously it’s good for all of us, there should be enough to go around, but obviously somebody is going to lose out too.”
Sanjeev Dhillon is a general contractor coordinating the September launch of Pizza Hut in Smithers on behalf of owner Tejinder Grewal.
He said increasing competition would increase choice and allow the market to work itself out.
“Pizza Hut brings another addition to it, right, adds to the scope of choices available to the people of Smithers which I think, in my opinion, is a good thing,” he said.
“We’ve spent quite a few hundred thousand dollars in the local economy, so we give in and we hopefully get back.”
“I’ve heard good things about Chatters, they will all be worthy competitors but it’s always good to have a bit more competition and let the market figure out who wins and who loses.”
Trackside Cantina owner Fawn Engen said her restaurant had not been affected by the boom but she believes some restaurants will close.
However, she said a change in dining culture was helping to support the local market.
“I think a lot of people are eating out and the town is growing,” said Engen.
“People, we find aren’t just coming to dine, they are coming to get a quick bite … we’re getting both.
“It used to be that people would come to a restaurant for a special occasion and now we’re finding that people are coming because they want us to cook them dinner.”
Wendy Thornton, who opened the Northern Fusion Curry House this summer, agreed more people were eating out.
“A lot of people like to go out, it’s a new world now, people are eating more because there’s two-job families so they are stopping by and picking up on the way home, people don’t have time anymore,” said Thornton.
“And I think there’s a lot of young people who really enjoy dining out so I think that there’s enough [patronage] in this town.”
Although a second restaurant serving curries also opened this year, she said the Fijian menu made her restaurant unique.
She believes tourism will help ensure there was enough business to go around.
Tourism Smithers marketing director Gladys Atrill said she also believes increasing dining options will help build on the town’s reputation with visitors.
“Everyone likes different stuff but if people are looking for ethnic food as well there are more varieties and it just gives a different flair to the community too, to have more taste options, more choices,” she said.
“I think Smithers has a reputation for the variety of retail and now we can add to that the variety of food options so of course I think it makes a difference.”
Atrill also predicts having more restaurants could prompt local people to eat out more often, helping to sustain the higher number of eateries in the long-term.
Bulkley Valley Farmers’ Market Association president William Elliott believes an increase in food vendors has contributed to bigger crowds at the weekly market in 2015.
He said market also extended its opening hours to include the lunch hour this summer.
“It’s gone hand in hand because we’ve got people now coming specifically to have lunch whereas before they were just having breakfast or a snack,” said Elliott.