Lift Coffee Company

  • food & drink

Wayne Katz of the Lift Coffee Company in their Function Junction cafe. Photo by David Buzzard.

Wayne Katz might have been young and broke when he moved to Whistler 30 years ago, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his goals.

“When I first came here I looked at the prices of homes and it was just crazy for a person my age and not having any money — I had no money,” he says. “I bought my first place by thinking outside the box and buying it with two other people. The risk was living with two other people, but that gave me the ability to build equity and when we parted ways, I took that money and bought my second place.”

Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to take risks: those are two pieces of advice Katz wants to pass on to the next generation of burgeoning businesspeople.

They might sound like clichés, he says, but that’s how he’s managed to start so many successful Whistler businesses over the years — among them, Zog’s, Gone, Moguls and Lift, not to mention new ventures in Squamish, which include a food truck for catering events, purchasing the Cliffside Pub with business partner Lawrence Black and a forthcoming venture in manufacturing.

To hear him tell the story of buying business after business is to hear part of Whistler’s history, all starting with Zog’s back in 1990 (under a different name). “People tell me Zog’s is an iconic part of Whistler,” Katz says. “People like it, especially late at night. It’s that greasy spoon you can go to.”

He has fond memories of working the counter late at night in the early years of the business. “It was so much fun,” he says. “The crowds weren’t as big as they are today.”

Over the years, Katz has brought the same strategy to every business he’s purchased — hire good people and make good food a priority. He even recalls trying to source enough local eggs to meet demand for his restaurants, long before the 100-mile diet was a trend.

“My father was a chef out of Europe. I grew up around food. I’m not a chef. Everyone thinks because of what I’ve been doing I’m a chef, but I’m just a guy that’s been around food a lot. I have to hire good chefs to help. I’m a good business guy to organize people to come together,” he says.

Another tactic he employs when considering adding a new business to his portfolio is to look at the big picture. He purchased Moguls because of its prime location in Village Square, Gone — his favourite spot of the bunch for its out-of-the-way location and funky vibe — was a must-have because of its hood system, which allows for deep frying and grilling, and the chain of Lift locations brought his business outside the Village for the first time.

“It helps that I can hire more people and interact with all the businesses. I like that part of it; mix and match and move around.”

“Some of them make less money than others do and some don’t even make money sometimes in some parts of the year, but they all fit together and make it work,” he says. “It helps that I can hire more people and interact with all the businesses. I like that part of it; mix and match and move around.”

It might sound unconventional, but it works — so much so that last year the Whistler Chamber of Commerce named Katz Business Person of the Year at its Whistler Excellence awards.

“It was nerve-wracking because I had to stand up in front of so many people, but it’s obviously humbling when your peers honour you,” Katz says.

In the end, he feels lucky to call Whistler home and contribute to its business community. “I appreciate living here and I was lucky to do what I’ve done,” he says. “It’s not an easy feat, but I was very fortunate to be able to grow as the community grew. But the next generation can do it too. A lot of people get discouraged that it’s too expensive or the chances of being able to do it in this type of community aren’t realistic. I want to say that’s not true. You just have to take some risk.”

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