Grand Forks’ Evelyn and Gary Kimmel are moving on from the Tastie Treat, 40 years after they took it over from Evelyn’s parents, Sheila and Pete Holoboff. Daughter-in-law Betty Kimel will stay on to manage the restaurant, sold to a holding company last fall, while its new owners decide what to do with the lot at 1629 Central Ave.
The Kimels, meanwhile, are holding on to the memories they made along the way.
“I was eight years old when my parents built the place,” Evelyn told The Gazette. That was in 1958, when the Holoboffs — Pete a pipeliner, Sheila a third grade school teacher — bought into the Tastee Freez franchise. You could buy a tastee burger for 25 cents when it opened, where the Canaco gas station now stands, according to Evelyn’s published history.
“It was our life,” Evelyn said. Certainly, the couple’s stories back that up, starting with her published “History of the Tastie Treat.”
Her account tells of families — Seminoff, Watson, and Bannert to mention two — stretching back into the city’s formative years. Pete sold ice cream made at Bud Campbell’s Sunshine Valley Dairy at the top of Market Avenue. Sheila cooked hot dogs and hamburgers, lovingly served on buns from Gwen and Buster Watsons’ OK Bakery. Pete’s sister, Nora Seminoff, baked pies washed down with Nick Winter’s soda.
The Holoboffs moved the restaurant in the mid 1960s’, an engineering feat that must’ve made quite a spectacle as Pete, Wilbur Bannert “and gang” rolled the building on logs to where it now stands. The family left the Tastee-Freez franchise not long after, and the restaurant became the Tastie Treat in 1967.
The restaurant had expanded from a humble ice cream shack to the renowned home of the “Sheila Burger,” whose secret sauce would draw accolades from faraway Vancouver and beyond. Not to be outdone, Sheila’s “meatless burger” was a hit with Grand Forks’ Doukhobors.
Husband Gary came along in 1968. The 20-year-old constable had been transferred to Grand Forks RMCP and “the Tastie Treat was one of only a few places to eat,” he said. In Evelyn’s telling, she first laid eyes on him making his way to the post office (now City Hall), dressed in grey pants and a white turtleneck sweater. As she reminded Gary, he first saw her at the restaurant, wearing her apron.
Gary said he remembered the Holoboffs had three things he fell in love with: Evelyn, the Tastie Treat and a backyard swimming pool. But the RCMP required Mounties to serve in the force for two years before they could get married, so the couple moved to the Lower Mainland, where Gary joined the Vancouver Police Department. Garry rejoined the RCMP after he and Evelyn tied the knot.
Their daughter Sheri was born in New Westminster in 1969, their son James in Kamloops in 1976. The family came back to Grand Forks in the spring of 1980, taking over at the restaurant from the Holoboffs. Pete stayed on the ice cream counter for tourist season, but “as soon as hunting season came around, he was gone,” Evelyn laughed. Sheila, meanwhile, had hung up her apron.
The Kimmels stayed at the Tastie Treat for the next 40 years. Sheri and James grew up working for their parents, “as soon as they were old enough to walk in the door.”
Quality was always the first priority. “We take pride in what we sell,” Evelyn said. “There are more than 20 kinds of chicken strips out there. We found the ones that our customers liked.” They never put anything on their menu that they wouldn’t serve at home, she said, making an allowance for Gary’s dislike of oyster burgers.
“I only eat things I can pet,” he joked. Sat next to his wife, he recalled the advice of his father-in-law, Pete, who saw the restaurant business as a calling. “Her dad always used to say, ‘If you want to make ice cream, you’ve got to dedicate your life to it. It’s the only way you’ll put out a good product.”
Meanwhile, the Kimmels hung on through the ups and downs of a changing fast-food landscape.
“For years, we were the only game in town,” Evelyn explained.
“And, of course, when other people came in, all the customers flocked, because they’d never had it before. But they all came back.”
The biggest came in the early 2000s, when the province introduced a graduated licensing program for young drivers and changed Grand Forks’ restaurant culture. Gone were the days when teens could cram their friends’ cars and drive to the local diner. Twenty years later, Evelyn is still rolling her eyes.
“When we turned 16 — two months later, we were driving. And it didn’t matter how many kids we packed in our cars.”
“The place was always packed with young people, but we don’t get those evenings when everyone would come for chips and gravy, or burgers and milkshakes.”
“If I was a teenager at the time, I would’ve revolted against it,” she said, poking fun at The Gazette.
Through it all, the Tastie Treat earned its fair share of renown. The “Sheila Burger” made it on the Province newspaper’s list of B.C’s best burgers in 1991. Its parent paper, The Vancouver Sun, complimented the Kimmels’ ice cream seven years later. Rock legends April Wine stopped for burgers when the band’s tour bus drove through town. Their framed autographed picture still hangs on the wall next to the kitchen doorway.
The Kimmels sponsored Sheri’s and James’ little league baseball teams, coached by Gary. At one point, they sponsored Border Bruins’ jerseys, billeting players when James was a teenager.
Looking back on it, it’s “the people” Evelyn said they’ll miss most. Now in their seventies, and with health concerns setting in, she and Gary sold the Tastie Treat in the third week of October. Evelyn has lived with a neuromuscular disease since birth. Gary survived a bout of polio when he was a small boy. Besides, “everyone comes down with something in the end,” Evelyn chuckled. “My husband decided he wanted both kinds of arthritis.”
It’s hard letting go. “But I figured it was better to go out on a high note,” Evelyn said, her voice breaking.
The Kimmels aren’t exactly sure how many staff have come through the restaurant since that inaugeral spring in 1980. Evelyn put the number at around 10 kids every summer, which she figured would add up to about 400.
The family hopes Grand Forks will continue to support the Tastie Treat now that daughter-in law Betty is at the helm. The new owners were chiefly interested in the land, Gary said, but they have no definite plans to take the building down.