A Day on Planet Cleve

Owners Elaine Teichgraber & Cleve Hamilton are justly proud of their burgers and other menu items
Owners Elaine Teichgraber & Cleve Hamilton are justly proud of their burgers and other menu items

Elaine Teichgraber and Cleve Hamilton are in their second year of business at Planet Cleve, a food cart now situated at Willingdon Beach.

It all started with an appreciation for good food. “My father was a chef and my mother was a salad cook,” says Cleve.

“I always loved to cook and entertain, so I thought it would be fun to get involved in this,” adds Elaine.

Elaine and Cleve believe the food cart industry is a viable alternative in a challenging economy. “ I worked in the mill for 10 years until I had my kids,” says Elaine. “I would have loved to have gone back, but they had downsized so much.  When Cleve suggested buying a food cart, I thought ‘I have some ideas, and it would be fun to do, rather than waiting to be hired by someone.’”

Cleve’s interest in food carts was initially aroused by Romeo Styles, owner of Savary Fries now operating out of Townsite. “He had a partner who used to sell hot dogs and was going to sell the cart. You can’t make a living in Powell River just selling hot dogs so we added a whole lot of items to the menu.”

The focus is on quality, with all recipes developed by Elaine. “We use 100% beef burgers, hormone-and-antibiotic free, all purchased locally from the Chopping Block. All our sauces are homemade, including our garlic mayo and burger sauce. Our twister dogs are scored so that they puff up and cook through more efficiently.  We also have an excellent recipe for pulled pork, with a home-made finishing sauce, as well as a really good prawn recipe.”

The food cart business is a fairly recent innovation in Powell River. “The old bylaws have recently been updated,” explains Cleve. “According to the new bylaw, you have to have a cart of a certain size, with three sinks, hot-and-cold running water, and a fridge. It has to be inspected by the Department of Health and the Fire Department every year. There’s also business license fee and a health department fee, as well as a fair amount of insurance. We bought our cart in May of last year, and it took us six weeks to do the paperwork.”

City Council has recently implemented a bylaw amendment for a flat $200 fee for 30 consecutive days or $600 for the calendar year, in addition to the business licence.

Elaine and Cleve were disappointed with the original locations identified by the City. “One was in the lot across from the Bank of Montreal but there’s limited parking there. Then there was another one down by the sewage treatment plant! The third location was here on Willingdon Beach, but the sale of food wasn’t permitted then, just trinkets. So we lobbied City Hall, the two of us, for more spots.”

They originally lobbied for a location on the wharf, near the ferry terminal. “We thought it would be perfect there. We went there for three hours on a Saturday, a beautiful sunny day, and we sold a Coke.”

“Business there wasn’t as good as we thought it would be,” says Elaine. “People who are coming for the ferry come at the last minute and stay in the cars, while people coming off the ferry have somewhere to go.”

In all, the current locations are as follows: the southeast corner of Marine Avenue and Alberni Street, the entrance to the north harbour along Courtenay Street, the north harbour, the southeast side of Willingdon Beach Park adjacent to Highway 101, on Marine Avenue across from Powell River Historical Museum and Archives, two locations at the Wharf at Westview and two at Mowat Bay. [Powell River Peak, July 9, 2013]

Planet Cleve is now in its second year of business, a fact of which Cleve is very proud. “They say most businesses fail within a year. We’ve been here longer than that.”

It’s had its challenges. Both Cleve and Elaine have observed a drop in the number of tourists coming to Powell River.

“The summer I arrived from Ottawa, four years ago, it was hopping for the whole summer. Now just look around,” Cleve says, gesturing to Willingdon Beach. “They’re not here anymore.”

Fortunately, local events such as Sea Fair, the Kelly Creek Market held on Friday nights, and the Open Air Market in Paradise Valley compensate for the relative lack of tourists. For Planet Cleve, the focus is also on building up a local clientele: “We’re starting to build up a really good base of customers, because if you don’t you’re not going to make it.”

They also plan to continue serving the public right through the winter.

“When the clocks change and it gets dark early, we’ll be cutting down to just lunchtime, staying open until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Obviously you can’t work all the time, but any days that it’s not snowing or cold, blowing rain, we’ll be out here,” says Cleve.  Planet Cleve is also available for party catering, by calling 604.487.9223 or emailing kuti@shaw.ca

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