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Golden Arches signal changing times in Pemberton



Burger titan Ray Kroc, founder of the McDonald’s empire, most likely never envisioned the day when his store would have a "ride-thru" for people on horseback and a menu that includes veggie burgers and Happy Planet drinks.

But that day has arrived and of all the places in the world it’s come to Pemberton, B.C.

"Now is that different or what?" said excited owner and operator Tom Horler.

"As you can see McDonald’s has evolved."

Horler, who was once the director of marketing for McDonald’s Asia/Pacific, has been giving locals and tourists their Big Mac fixes in Whistler for the past decade. It was simply a natural progression to expand to Pemberton, the fastest growing small community in B.C., which houses a good portion of Whistler’s workforce.

"The customer base will be quite similar," he said.

The new McDonald’s will be the only fast-food restaurant in the small farming community, located next to the new gas station at the Pioneer Junction development at the corner of Vine Road and Highway 99.

Horler said there hasn’t been any obvious backlash to the development as far as he is aware. He puts this down to two reasons.

First off, the restaurant will hire 40 employees from the local community. Horler went on to explain that there are many opportunities to move up in the McDonald’s corporation, adding that the current McDonald’s president in Canada started off behind the grill flipping burgers.

Secondly, the restaurant has come a long way from the staple menu for which it is famed. They can provide choices for a wider range of people now, especially lighter choices like grilled chicken and salad.

"The menu has evolved dramatically as most Canadians are living a more balanced lifestyle," he said.

Horler said the Lighter Choices menu, which includes fruit and yogurt parfaits and mandarin salads, sells 50 to 60 per cent more in Whistler than in the Lower Mainland. He puts that high percentage down to the fact that there are more places in the Lower Mainland where people can pick up a salad on the go, compared to Whistler. But he says it also has something to do with the makeup of the healthy customer base.

"They have welcomed this evolution in the menu more so in Whistler than in the Lower Mainland," said Horler.

In addition, both franchises have been given some leeway to experiment with the menu, due to the nature of the tourist market here.

These locations are the only McDonald’s to offer the Happy Planet fruit drinks. And the Whistler location was also the first to provide Fruitopia and Power Ade drinks.

With 44 inside seats and 16 seats outdoors, the Pemberton restaurant will be about two-thirds the size of the Whistler location. The inside setting is fashioned after the original Pemberton general store’s rustic gold rush design.

The restaurant will be open at 6 a.m. to accommodate the people commuting to work in Whistler.

Horler is expecting the drive-thru in Pemberton will be more popular than in Whistler, where 30 per cent of the sales are done through the window compared to other stores across the country which do more than 50 per cent of their business at the drive-thru. He expects Pemberton to be more on par with the rest of the country when it comes to drive-thru sales.

The store opens for business today, March 14. But the grand opening takes place on Saturday, March 22 from 4 to 8 p.m. Along with Ronald McDonald there will be face painting, free cupcakes and caricature drawings for the kids.

Along with McDonald’s and the Shell gas station, the Pioneer Junction complex will include a 1,600 square foot convenience store and Pemberton’s first activity centre.

Visitors will be able to book things like B&B rooms as well as golf times and horseback riding trips at the activity centre.

Developers have also applied for zoning to build 80 townhomes behind the development.