The first phase of Fort St. John's latest commercial development is set to open Thursday for residents with a craving for a burger.
The city's first Burger King restaurant will flick on the drive-thru lights and swing open its doors to the public at 10 a.m. Thursday, marking a launch of sorts for the Gateway Plaza along the Alaska Highway.
The restaurant's opening comes a month early for owner and developer Trevor Bolin, who expected to be open by the end of April. A warm winter made quick work for construction crews.
"To (open) just after Easter and just before spring break is over, and catch some of the warm spring days was a little bit of a bonus," said Bolin, also a city councillor, who's held the franchise rights for the restaurant for four years.
Crews began framing the restaurant in late November and will get started on phase two of the development, which will include a full-service Esso gas station and mall with seven other retail and food outlets.
Bolin hopes to have those open and operating by the fall, with plans for phase three, another six units of commercial outlets, to break ground next spring.
At full build out, it's a $17 million investment, Bolin said, one he says will address "the missing pieces that Fort St. John doesn't offer" for shoppers and diners in the city.
While he promised to announce details of some of the new businesses that will fill the plaza in April, Bolin did confirm that one of them will be Supplement King, a Canadian-based sports supplement store.
Some other brands, including Pita Pit, have been looking to come to the city for years but have struggled to find owner-operators, Bolin said. He's been using social media the last few months to gauge the interest of what residents want to see in town and pair them with companies he knows are looking to set up shop.
"The hardest thing with Fort St. John is, even during these times, when it's busy it's hard to find staff, when it's sometimes slower, it's hard to find owner-operators," Bolin said.
"What you'll find as things ramp up … people will gain interest and think, 'I should do something different, I should do something for myself.'
"We've had people come up and say, 'what would it take to put a Pita Pit in the Gateway Plaza, or a Supplement King.' The contacts we have with them marry the two together," he said.
At full build out, Bolin said the plaza will be a "large city employer," with around 175 workers. He's hired 45 locals to staff the Burger King and says 99 per cent of the construction crews who built the restaurant were local tradespeople.
"It keeps Fort St. John families busy and well-fed," he said.
"The timing couldn't have been better."