An acquaintance arriving at the coffee shop for his morning mud detours to where Sean Wilkie is sitting to ask him about his new competition.
“My new competition?” Wilkie asks.
“The perogy truck,” he’s told.
“Not exactly competition,” says Wilkie. “They serve perogies and I serve burgers.”
And hand-cut french fries, poutine in various styles and chicken to go with his tasty burgers of all varieties.
The 34-year-old Airdrie man is in his third season operating a successful food truck in the city – Wilk’s Booth, a name that references the owner’s nickname and the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth.
Wilkie typically offers up his tasty cuisine from three regular locations in the city – the Farmer’s Market each Wednesday; the parking lot of the Super 8 motel to attract business from Genesis Place and Bert Church High School; and one of the city’s big condo complexes.
“We offer high-quality food,” he says. “You can’t really make a great meal if you use sub-par ingredients.”
Wilkie has been part of the food industry since 2005. His first experience came at restaurants when he was travelling in Australia that year and grew tired of picking fruit, the only job he says he could find there.
“I saw in one of the newspapers that one of the islands was looking for a cook,” he says. “I never worked in a restaurant before but I told them I worked in restaurants in Calgary. They knew instantly I hadn’t worked in one in my life, so they demoted me down to dishwasher within a couple of days, which was fine because I got a taste of restaurants and it was fun.
“After that,” he adds, “I went over to another island and joined another kitchen. In kitchens if you show you are motivated and eager to learn they’ll do whatever they can to teach you.”
After returning to Canada and working at restaurants in Calgary, Wilkie began operating a catering company and renting out kitchen space to food trucks.
“I saw how much fun they were having and decided to go out on my own and it’s been great,” he says.
Wilkie also studied culinary arts at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and is a Red Seal chef.
A love of working with food came from both his parents – his mother, Wendy, and his late father, Neil, who Wilkie says worked at restaurants when he was younger but stopped because “he cut himself too much.”
Adds Wilkie: “I can always remember cooking with my mom, standing on a chair and making stuff with her. I’ve always liked cooking.”
The culinary entrepreneur operates his truck with his girlfriend, Katlyn Ormson, and is joined by one more staff member for dinners and a couple others for bigger events, such as rodeos.
As far as competition for the food truck market in Airdrie, he welcomes others like the Perogy Boyz.
“It works out good,” he said. “I look at it like being at a mall; you have more than one choice. I’ll call (the Perogy Boyz) up and ask: ‘You busy this weekend? I’ve got a rodeo if you are interested.’ They do the same for me. It’s all good.”
All the burgers on his menu are made to order ‘in truck’ using 100 per cent Alberta beef for the homemade six-ounce patties. His namesake Wilk’s Burger features cheddar, sautéed onions, bacon, fried egg and sautéed mushrooms.
Wilkie has added a couple more poutine dishes to his menu this year, including Whole Truck fries, gravy, cheese curds, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms and loads of bacon. Among the french fries is the new Rancher’s Fries – crispy fries topped with heaps of bacon, green onion, diced tomatoes and shaved cheddar and served with a side of chipotle aioli.
Also new to the menu are deep-fried pickles.
“You batter them like fish and chips,” Wilkie says. “I never had them until last year and I tried them at a bar here. I hate pickles but they are so good. Super tasty.”
Asked why he focuses on burgers, Wilkie is quick to answer: “I found it hard to find a good one,” he says.