Move over, Mr. Mike's

Four decades after opening its doors, change is on menu

Doug Miller, a one-time Vancouver hotel chef who signed on in the early days of the Mr. Mike's franchise, is working on the floor and in the kitchen of his 42-year old restaurant when a customer calls with what's become a familiar question: Are you closing the restaurant?

Yes, Miller is closing Mr. Mike's, the city's oldest continuously operated family restaurant run by the same owner. But he's also working with longtime employee Wendell Stoughton to establish a new, independent restaurant - Stout House - that will continue to feature the only salad bar in town.

Tomorrow is the last day Mr. Mike's at the Fortune Mall in North Kamloops will open its doors for business, serving a familiar menu of salads, steaks and burgers.

"We can't sell them the franchise," said Miller. "Requirements are different than when we built 42 years ago."

The Kamloops location is the last of the old style Mr. Mike's, which has made a decided turn to become more upscale, competing with the Earls restaurants of Western Canada.

The Kamloops location remains the way it used to be: casual family dining with a focus on affordability. The major change came in the 1980s, when the salad bar was added to keep in step with what was then the new vogue in dining.

Miller has raised his own two boys at the restaurant and seen a lot of other kids grow up and clients grow older. He has also seen the ups and downs in his own business dealings. At the peak in the mid-'80s there were three Mr. Mike's locations in Kamloops: downtown, Valleyview and Fortune Mall.

The downtown location closed in 1989, followed by the Valleyview restaurant 12 years later.

Miller said Mr. Mike's - now Mr. Mike's Steakhouse and Bar -has rolled over its agreement with him on a three-month basis due to his status as a veteran franchisee. But it was clear the corporation wanted to change in a direction he did not want to go.

That led to serious discussions about selling to Stoughton, who is working in partnership with his family. Miller can't sell the name, but he's selling the restaurant assets and four decades of goodwill.

"Mr. Mike's has been here 42 years. That's almost a lifetime. They'll (customers) be back. It's up to Wendell and his family to keep them."

Stoughton began working at Mr. Mike's three-and-a-half years ago. He jumped at the chance to take over, with a twist.

"We're going to keep the menu as-is, without the franchise stuff we can't keep."

They'll also add sandwiches and wraps and change the dÃcor, for the first time in two decades. And, yes, there are plans to keep the overhead model train on the tracks.

Stout House is set to open April 15.

"We get people asking if it's closing, we say, 'No, it's just changing,' " Stoughton said.

After four decades in business in the same location, with thousands of customers, Miller is fielding lots of questions. After asking him if he's closing, the next question is inevitable: What about the Mike Burger?

Miller said he's working with Stoughton to come up with a replacement, not a copycat and not with the same name, but one that will stand beside the famed burger he sold for 42 years.

"'I think they've got the problem of the burger licked,'" he told a caller Monday morning. "'But I can't say more.'"

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