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Athabasca Catering crosses borders

Alan Cole is leading Athabasca Catering into a brave new world.

Primarily a Saskatchewan company with tentacles across the northern part of the province, Cole has taken Athabasca Catering next door to Alberta.

Cole has snapped up a pre-existing work camp that had been closed in Red Earth, Alta., about 400 kilometres north of Edmonton. Its location is also smack-dab between Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie, a very strategic location, says Cole, Managing Director of Athabasca Catering. "The move into Alberta was part of a realization by Kitsaki in its current operating model that we are tied to one client (Cameco). That's what we've had for 20 years."

But in order to diversify its portfolio, Kitsaki Management Limited Partnership has given Cole the green light to move across the border into Alberta. With Alberta's energy hub located there, Cole sees it as a perfect location to set-up camp there. A service is needed, he believes, to support the oil and gas workers with a quality place to eat and stay. This is something Athabasca Catering knows and does well and its reputation as a business that performs a quality service will precede them.

"Strategically, it places us so we now have a business operating address. We have a case study operational camp in Alberta. It's profitable … it's the first time in Athabasca history we are out of province with a fully operating logistical structure."

Cole knew the camp was a perfect fit for what Athabasca provides. It also had a cinema, a gymnasium and other attributes which fit perfectly into Cole's plans. "It's working out really well for us."

Now, Athabasca's open camp handles much of the catering for the local municipal district, the RCMP and other area residents who are in need of a room and good meal.

While the oil and gas industry continue to struggle with low prices, Cole says there are still fracking crews criss-crossing northern Alberta who require their services.

As Athabasca's new camp moves into spring and summer, Cole says there are plans to provide theme nights to entertain the area's 600 or so residents to make eating at the camp part of their weekly routine.

"We have a superb, superb head chef. It gives the local people a chance to come out and dine with really good food."

Even now, Cole says there are about 25 people a night who come into the camp for their evening meal.

"It's just a nice place to come for a nice meal. There's not much in the area, really."

Cole sees the Red Earth camp as a stepping stone into new area, and even new provinces once he's proven this camp is more than viable.

He hopes to have an Athabasca Catering office set up in Edmonton sometime in 2018. As well, he's already scouting locations in British Columbia for a new camp.

"If we can secure one of these bids, then I'll commit to an office."

Cole says the future of Athabasca Catering is very bright, even with Cameco's issues at the moment. It just requires a vision outside of the box … and the border.