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No taste like home

Dan Clarke has pretty much cooked and catered his way across the country, but he’s particularly pleased with his latest gig, whetting appetites in his hometown of Port aux Basques.
Dan Clarke has pretty much cooked and catered his way across the country, but he’s particularly pleased with his latest gig, whetting appetites in his hometown of Port aux Basques.

ENTREPRENEURS Dan Clarke has spent 27 years as a cook and caterer across much of the country, including a nine-month stint in the Arctic Circle, but says he’s been much happier since he came home to launch Poppy Dan’s Kitchen at the Bruce II Sports Centre in Port aux Basques in May 2016.

Dan Clarke prepares fresh pizza with homemade sauce for the lunch special.

Clarke’s primary motivation for becoming an entrepreneur in his hometown was to be closer to his two children and four grandchildren. Like most new business owners, what he struggles with most is time. He just doesn’t have enough of it.
Not only is Poppy Dan’s open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., it also caters events like the annual Bread and Roses Dinner where Clarke prepares supper for 230 people after cooking all day for his regular customers.

Dan Clarke prepares fresh pizza with homemade sauce for the lunch special.

Having the elementary and high school located so close to the sports centre means Poppy Dan’s sees a steady stream of student regulars, but he also feeds a lot of busy professionals who swing by after calling in their order from his standard menu, or checking the daily specials on his Facebook page.
Menu items vary, but the standard fare focuses on appealing to his student base, who tend to want typical fried foods. Still, Dan likes to offer alternatives for the more health conscious, including soups, wraps and sandwiches. The daily specials tend to revolve around whatever he feels like making that day, but he’s flexible, saying, “If someone has a request and I have the ingredients, I’ll make it for them.”
Even the weekends keep him hopping. Parents with kids involved in hockey, skating, or swimming come looking for hot breakfasts. In the afternoons, his homemade pea soup and bread rolls have become quite popular with the locals, and he can easily go through three large pots of tasty soup and well over 100 handmade rolls.
He does have help, though — one full-time and five part-time staff pitch in when things get hectic, like when the Bruce II hosts special events in the evening, like hockey or curling tournaments. As if that weren’t enough, he’s already taking bookings for weddings this summer.

Some of the baked goods Poppy Dan’s Kitchen offers with his lunch selections.

“I don’t bake the cakes,” Dan says with a chuckle. “It’s not feasible, but I do make some desserts.”
Clarke has pre-planned menus designed for private functions, but he’s always amenable to special requests. With the catering arm of the business picking up steadily, his hard work is paying off.
And hard work it has been. He’s busier now than he’s ever been, a common hazard for new business startups.
“During the fall, I did a lot of Christmas baking,” Clarke says. “I would come in at four in the morning and not get home until nine at night. I can honestly say I took one day off last year: Christmas Day. Boxing Day, was I was back in.”
And although on this night a hockey game has been cancelled due to bad weather, Clarke is not fazed about the sudden switch to his dinner preparations. He’s gotten pretty good at adapting quickly.

One of the dinners prepared for the 230 guests of the Bread and Roses dinner in honour of International Women's Day on Sunday, March 5th. Poppy Dan’s served stuffed bread rolls, chicken breast, turnip, potatoes, peas, carrots and plenty of fresh gravy. Dessert was a selection of cheesecakes, with tea or coffee.

“I’ll still put the lasagna on for the local people. It’s just really nice to see more people coming here to eat.”
Once hockey season ends, in mid to late April, Clarke expects things to slow down a bit, even with kids coming in regularly to participate in summer sports.
He is determined to carve out a bit more down time.
“I’m going to make time off for myself,” he promises, the plan being to not work weekends and spend more time with his family.
This senior entrepreneur is also kept busy with volunteer work with the Lion’s Club, and became a full member last year.

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