Go Big, Jack

Travis Milos is a busy man, hard at work and passionate when you speak to him. The energy behind those two traits is evident as he tells the story of his busy past few years building Big Bear Donair and Liquor and, later, Whiskey Jacks Pub and Grill with his partners. He barely pauses to inhale as he shares the story of how the two businesses, located downtown and in Porter Creek respectively, were conceived and built.

“We saw a window for a new offsales place when the Roadhouse shut down,” Milos said. “And we also saw an opportunity for a donair place, because there was nothing else like it. It gave us the licensing to get the offsales licence.”

Big Bear Donair manager Evan Wesseler (left) has been key to the success at the restaurant.

Big Bear Donair shares a parking lot with the old Salvation Army and wouldn’t be the first location many would look to for a new business venture. “People really questioned us putting it here,” Milos said. “But for us it had to happen here. It was scary locking into a lease with all your savings, so the rent had to be affordable and it had to be on a main (road).

“It was a good fit because now we’re on Fourth Avenue, (and the) 202’s on Second. And I think we’ve been a good addition to the neighbourhood and people have supported us because they’ve seen us working hard to make it work.”

The space wasn’t perfect however, and required some sweat equity. Milos was in construction before launching into the restaurant business and had to put his past experience to good use. The renovations to the space, the decor and the deck out front for sunny days were all done by Milos and friends.

It was a team effort and required partners to get Big Bear running. His partner and business partner, Chelsea Wensel, has a business background and really helped get things off the ground in order. Milos admits that he would have never imagined himself in this business, and it’s the help of Wensel and Joe Thomas, his business partner at Whiskey Jacks, who helped make this possible.

And all that work has been recognized by others in the business community. Milos and Wensel were awarded the New Business/New Entrepreneur Award last spring by the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce. But Milos isn’t the type to sit around and consider it a finished product, so he launched into Whiskey Jacks last year as well.

The previous owner of Bailey’s at the location was Milos’ friend and not sure if he wanted to continue operating. Milos had done the renovations at their store and offered to come give some pointers at the offsales in Porter Creek after seeing success at Big Bear Liquor. Their model includes a points program to help create a loyal customer group. As well, they’ve worked with the Yukon Liquor Corporation on specialty orders and products that aren’t necessarily available at the Liquor Store.

“A lot of the popular items end up in the Liquor Store,” Milos said. “Our store is small. We’d love to carry more but we’re constrained by space.”

But the help didn’t result in enough change in the business and his friend still expressed interest in wanting out. It turned out to be good timing.

“Joe (Thomas) had helped get Big Bear going,” Milos explained. “And he wanted to get more involved. The opportunity with the pub came up. It really was an opportunity to bring Joe on for a larger share.”

They took the leap and launched the pub, rebranded as Whiskey Jacks Pub and Grill. With Milos’s construction skills and their experience at Big Bear, they made a few changes to décor and offsales. The product has been successful and embraced by the neighbourhood.

“It’s become a neighbourhood pub for the area,” Milos said. “With all the development between the areas, there’s a lot of people.”

And now his day is filled with managing the two businesses. The service cycle between the two has been a good fit. Milos can look into issues at Big Bear earlier in the day and then head up to Whiskey Jacks in the afternoon to see if anything is needed before the evening rush. He’s got a new perspective on the pub and restaurant business.

“It’s finding out what doesn’t work and making it better,” Milos explained. “I fix problems all day and solve the issues that we’re having. I enjoy the variety

“I had been on equipment doing dirt moving. It got boring. Business is different because something is new everyday.”

That won’t change for an entrepreneur as energetic as Milos and they’ve got plans to continue their success. He plans on keeping things fresh at both locations with changes to décor and menu items. But this summer won’t see any new major changes on the business front for Milos, Wensel won’t let him.

“We’re building a house, so that’s the big project for the summer,” Milos laughed.

Big Bear Donair can be found in downtown Whitehorse at 4161 – 4th Avenue and Whiskey Jacks Pub and Grill is located in the Porter Creek Mall at 29 Wann Rd.

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