Yellowknife businessman wants big tourism with Big Fish NWT

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Liang Cheng, the businessman responsible for Yellowknife’s Copperhouse restaurant and outspoken advocate for Northern tourism, has won the annual YK Win Your Space contest with his plan to open a new restaurant: Big Fish NWT.

Winning the contest will give Chen one year of free rent in the downtown core and funding from the the NWT Business Development and Investment Corporation.

Liang Chen, a prominent businessman, is hoping to spur tourism with his restaurant, Big Fish NWT.
Brett McGarry/NNSL photo

His new restaurant will cater to everyone but Chen hopes it will hold special appeal to the multitude of tourists who come to Yellowknife.

“It’s very important that we increase satisfaction of the tourists who come here and have a flourishing market,” said Chen.

Chen said he is a little concerned that if not enough investment is made into the tourism market, dollars might flow to other Northern towns around the world.

“What I’m afraid of happening to Yellowknife and the NWT as a whole on the tourism front is that we’re not providing a high enough quality product,” said Chen. “Guests coming here feel our product here is overrated. They’re paying that extra money but not getting the products and services that they would get elsewhere. Tourism is a global market and other regions are fighting for that market.”

Chen feels Big Fish NWT will help improve the experience for visitors by offering high quality food that is locally sourced, which is something they are seeking.

“It will be local fish but cooked in a way that tourists will be comfortable with and in a way they expect,” said Chen. “A lot of Asians will say they have an Asian stomach and can’t get away from that. They’re very much always looking for something similar they know.”

Big Fish NWT already has a completed menu and a head chef from Banff, Alta., but Chen said he was not ready to reveal the identity of the individual or what will be on offer.

There will be three different styles of hot dishes that Chen says will appeal to Asian tourists, whether they are from Korea, Japan or China.

“We think everyone will like it, including local Yellowknifers,” said Chen.

The restaurant will also feature professionally shot photographs of each dish on an automated ordering system with iPads, so no matter what language a tourists speaks, they will be able to order.

Chen said he cannot reveal the location yet as he is negotiating a lease, but the proposed location is “right in the heart of Yellowknife.”

Win Your Space YK

Although Chen said the city is considering making the Win Your Space contest a bi-yearly affair, instead of an annual event, the experience gained through the contest was invaluable.

“I wholeheartedly recommend that any person who wants to be an entrepreneur to participate in the contest if for nothing else than to go through their crash course,” said Chen. “This is more valuable than going through a two-year college program learning business.”

He said the work sessions spread over a two month period provides participants with the tools to educate themselves but also the opportunity to find out if they are really ready to start a business.

Chen hopes the contest will continue on an annual basis as he said it will really help revitalize the downtown and strengthen business in Yellowknife.

Big Fish NWT is expecting to open in January 2020, with a capacity of roughly 60.

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