When it comes to serving fresh, healthy, local food dishes in the north, Sassafras Savouries chef and owner April Ottesen has a wealth of experience to share.
April was raised in northern BC, and food was always at the centre of her family relationships. She remembers raising livestock and honey bees, and recounts tales of her grandmother working at a Prince George restaurant in the 1940’s at a time when most of the food in the city still came from farms within the region.
Sassafras Savouries began as a small catering company in 2000 with start-up support from Community Futures. The company was founded on the principles of supporting local and organic farmers, showcasing fresh and healthy ingredients, and making the consumer connection to the value of local food through menu items. Sassafras Savouries began its catering operations out of the YAP (Youth Around Prince George) Centre facilities in exchange for April’s support of programs at the Centre. Over time, Sassafras’s loyal catering
customer base grew, and after celebrating her 10th anniversary in business, April opened the Sassafras Savouries Café at its new location at 7th Ave. and Brunswick St. in Prince George.
The customers at the restaurant are diverse but always discerning and the catering customers are predominantly health care professionals. This comes as no surprise to April, whose healthy menu items have great appeal to customers who have a health mandate entrenched in their daily operations.
April recognizes the value of her loyal customer base and often gives back to the communities that support her. Recently she developed 12 recipes for the BC Farm to School Salad Bar program, which aims to supply healthy meals in school cafeterias by connecting with local farms. Opening the new restaurant, in addition to her catering business and community involvement, has April working around the clock. She has hired several new employees to help prepare the labour-intensive, made-from-scratch menu items. She also spends her time visiting farms in the area to purchase fresh local products, rather than relying on deliveries from conventional food suppliers.
Despite the extra care that goes into Sassafras’s menu items, prices remain low, and many customers recognize that the value of their food is much more than they are paying. When asked why April hasn’t raised her prices, she says, “I just haven’t had the time!”
While the days may be long and the profits modest, April’s work ethic is driven by her passion for real food and her desire to change people’s attitudes towards whatthey eat. She firmly believes a restaurant is a great vehicle for those changes.
While the workload may appear daunting, April’s advice to other chefs, both in the home and the business, is to start somewhere, even with just one thing: one relationship with a local producer or one type of vegetable you grow at home.
Before you know it, your attitude will have changed, and you will scarcely notice the extra effort, if any, required to serve a better food product.
Sassafras Savouries Café and Catering
693 Brunswick St.
Prince George, BC