Tag Archives: Refiner Diner

Refiner Diner: Jonathan Pulker

17 Jan
Refiner Diner's Jonathan Pulker and Jenessa Lenore //Photo by Megan Cole

Refiner Diner’s Jonathan Pulker and Jenessa Lenore //Photo by Megan Cole

It’s not uncommon to see a chef’s home cupboards bare except for the odd package of Mr. Noodles, or counters and dining room tables littered with take-out boxes.

Chefs often leave the cooking at work and choose to eat out when they’re not at work, but the opposite is true for chef and owner of popular Victoria food cart, Refiner Diner, Jonathan Pulker.

“I cook everything at home,” said Pulker. “When I get off work, I get home and cook some more. I’ve always been like that. I don’t get tired of it because I’m doing it at work.”

The Toronto-native may not have intended on making the island his home for the past 19 years, but when he was arrested at Clayoquot Sound and had to go to court, things changed.

Having made the decision to stay in Victoria and be a dad to his now 17-year-old daughter, Pulker began to take cooking more seriously.

“When I had a kid I got a bit more serious and started focusing on developing my career,” he said taking shelter from the cold January weather in Da Kine Coffee next to his truck. “I worked my way up from Pluto’s to the Empress and became a chef and opened Prima Strata and then went into business for myself and opened the food truck.”

While the streets of Victoria maybe far from the big food truck hubs like New York, Portland, San Francisco and Vancouver, diners are flocking to the Refiner Diner.

But for anyone who has driven down the stretch of Quadra Street where Pulker has set up shop, it wouldn’t be hard to miss his truck completely.

The small truck isn’t like the pre-made trucks available from manufacturers like Food Cart USA. Instead, it is a “rusty truck” outfitted with unique touches setting it apart from other trucks in town.

Having worked in various restaurants, Pulker had seen the expense of opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and with the possibility that he may not be in Victoria for much longer, he decided a food truck was the best way to get his food out to the public.

“I built it myself with help from stainless steel and gas fitters, and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s a low overhead business that I could get into was the main draw. If I put that money into a building I would lose half of it, so it just made sense.”

Pulker, who works along side his girlfriend Jenessa Lenore, serves a loyal crowd, many of whom had braved the near zero temperatures for Refiner Diner’s custom poutine, the special of the day: Fernwood Falafel or their famous crispy cheeseburger.

Refiner Diner's famous Crispy Cheeseburger //Photo by Megan Cole

Refiner Diner’s famous Crispy Cheeseburger //Photo by Megan Cole

But serving great burgers and fries wasn’t enough for Pulker. He took his vision for Refiner Diner one step further by making his truck biodiesel, and instead of using someone else’s fryer oil for his truck, he decided to find someone who would convert the grease he uses so that he can put it back into his truck.

“It took a while to find somebody that would actually convert our oil for us,” he said. “You can convert your vehicle to grease; or you can convert your grease to be a fuel, so it’s a lot more money to convert a truck and I wanted to find someone who would convert our oil to fuel for us.”

It was at the VIP sections of local festivals like Rock the Shores and Rifflandia that locals (and the event’s entertainers) got a taste of Refiner Diner.

As people began to sample their fare, Pulker and Lenore heard over and over again from customers “where is your regular spot?” and in December Refiner Diner found a more permanent home on a lot on Quadra near Caledonia.

“’It took us until December to get a license and everything,” he said. “We got this place and passed the probationary period with the landlord and the neighbours. Now we’re in our second month and can plan for the next several months.”

While customers enjoy their fries, burgers, poutine and more from Refiner Diner, when Pulker and Lenore want a night off from slicing, sautéing and grilling they head to similar style food destinations as their own.

With years of experience in the Victoria restaurant industry, Pulker knows many of the people who are in the kitchens around town.

“The last place I went out to eat was Zambri’s,” he said. “Peter is a friend of mine and I like Peter and I like his food. I took my daughter there the other day.”

Pulker added Pig and Lao Vientiane to his list of favourite spots, in addition to lots of pho.

“I like to eat the same food I make. It’s low impact – it doesn’t cost you $100 to go out and eat, although I do like to go to Braisserie [L’ecole] once a year,” he said.

But when Pulker is cooking at home (especially during the cold and wet winter months) he is making stews, braises and a lot of borscht.

“My daughter wants to make yam and peanut soup for dinner tonight so I’m going to help her do that,” he said. “I’m trying to help her learn how to cook because she hasn’t picked it up so far. Her little brother is better than she is and he’s only seven, but he was interested in it at early age and she wasn’t. She’s more intellectual.”

While you aren’t likely to see a deep fried beef stew or borscht on the Refiner Diner menu, Pulker and Lenore are open throughout the winter from Wednesday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. For updated hours and specials follow them on Facebook.

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