Entrepreneur caters to Northerners at home and in flight

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When you meet Matti Wilkins, the first things you notice are his ginger lumberjack beard, bright blue eyes and engaging smile. This 32-year-old father of three is the owner of Big Racks BBQ, a restaurant in Iqaluit, Nunavut, which just celebrated its third anniversary this past November.

Born and raised in Whitby, Ontario, Matti graduated from Durham College as an automotive technician and obtained a coveted Red Seal.

He travelled North in 2008 as a licensed automotive mechanic with his brother, working for Wynberg Automotive for several years and then moving on to Canadian North as a ground mechanic. He has been a full-time resident of Iqaluit since 2008, meeting and marrying his wife, Marlyn, who is originally from the Philippines, in 2009.

Marlyn and Matti saw an opportunity to provide the Iqaluit community with more choice in restaurants and thus Big Racks BBQ was born. They purchased a neighbour’s house, renovated it and opened Big Racks. The name came from a brain-storming session and Matti commissioned local artist John Cruz to design the logo and paint it on the interior wall of the restaurant. It sounds simple but wasn’t. The biggest challenges were dealing with all the logistics: planning and developing, costs, sealift, lag time and staffing. Matti continues to work through these but Matti has a successful thriving business that has expanded into a second fast-food service restaurant, Pita Shack, located in Iqaluit’s Aquatic Centre.

Matti, the constant entrepreneur, saw an opportunity to provide food for First Air and reached out to the company. First Air, always supportive of the North and of using local suppliers, responded enthusiastically. At the end of August, Matti’s restaurant became the provider of fresh sandwiches and salads for First Air’s Northern flights out of Iqaluit. First Air passengers can enjoy a freshly made Big Racks’ sandwich, like their popular Chicken Club, on flights.

Customer reviews have been fantastic; they are enjoying the new catering items and First Air has a successful new, local partnership.

Matti’s future business goals are to expand, serve great food to more communities and provide jobs for residents of the North. Plans for opening a second Big Racks BBQ in Rankin Inlet are nearing fruition.