On the first day Jolly Good Spudz opened its doors, owner Martin Paris and his team served his brand of British-style baked potatoes to nearly 200 people.
As Paris places another batch of russet potatoes in the King Edward potato oven, he explains what led him to open the North Okanagan’s first restaurant specializing in baked potatoes.
“I was in construction and I’ve always had a passion for food,” said Paris, who opened Jolly Good Spudz in downtown Vernon Feb. 1. “I just remember from back in the day I’d always go and get a jacket potato, and it was filling and healthy.
“They’re more like concession trailers over in England, but because of the weather here, people like to sit down and eat. My family had a restaurant like this, it wasn’t sit down, just grab and go, and I thought this would be a great idea here.”
Originally from Coventry, England, Paris arrived in Vernon six years ago as many people do: travelling with friends in search of snow. After a season at Silver Star Mountain Resort, he did a season as a valet at Predator Ridge.
It was in Vernon that Paris met his girlfriend, Ashley Lewicky, and the pair now works together at Jolly Good Spudz, along with cook Daniel Desjarlais.
Last year, Paris entered and won the 2017 Enterprize Challenge, hosted by Community Futures North Okanagan.
“To think back to a year ago, and being in that room on the first day when everyone was talking about their business ideas — I didn’t think I had a chance,” he said.
The Enterprize Challenge pairs entrants with mentors to help prepare for tasks, and it gave Paris the push he needed to make his dream a reality. The first place prize package is worth more than $19,000 and includes start-up capital, free business banking for a year and a range of packages, including legal, accounting, marketing and web design, as well as graphics, and a radio and print campaign.
“After winning the Enterprize Challenge it just kind of snowballed and doing my market research was huge and I wouldn’t have done that if I wasn’t in the challenge, so it was a way to find out if people will even like it,” he said. “I did find a big part of it was educating people, the only thing that existed on potatoes was salad cream, bacon and chives by the sound of it, and I just wanted to give more of an option.
“The response has been crazy since we opened. Day one I couldn’t bake the potatoes fast enough and ran out of potatoes, day two it happened twice. We’re kind of caught up now and it’s still a lot of work, we have a pretty big menu and I’ve had to hire more people.”
Vernon’s newest option for healthy fast food has a menu to satisfy every taste, with the crispy-skinned, fluffy-centred potatoes featuring everything from barbecued pulled pork, to coconut curried chicken, to a vegan chili. Also featured are loaded potato skins featuring tasty treats such as tuna and mayo, baked beans, and cheese curds. All orders come with a side of cole slaw. Customers can also order a plain potato and add their fillings of choice, including vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Jolly Good Spudz is downtown on 31st Avenue and features a clean, bright atmosphere with blue and white decor to match the U.K.’s Union Jack flag. Two tables — built by Paris — with chairs, as well as eight stools along a counter at the window, invite guests to stay and enjoy their meal, but take-out is also popular.
“I found out what Canadians like — I found out about poutine when I came here, and I’m doing it healthier with potatoes instead of fries; and then I came up with the guacamole because that’s something I like, and then I wanted to give a vegan option so I have a vegan chili.”
Paris’ fellow Brits are starting to discover that their beloved “jacket” potatoes are available right here in Vernon.
“They are starting to come out of the woodwork,” said Paris, who has included a few icons of home, such as a waving Queen Elizabeth, complete with handbag, sitting on the counter next to a Queen’s Guard and a British bobby.
“It’s a lot of work and I’m running a tight ship but I’m trying to enjoy it at the same time as working my butt off.”