The Fullers come full circle at Earls Tin Palace
Sphere of Infuence: Family Style Dining
by Alberta Venture Staff
Like many families in Alberta, the Fullers have made their living in the energy business. But they didn’t do it by working in the patch or by owning an oil and gas company. Instead, they started a restaurant on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton that sold burgers and beer. It wasn’t just another restaurant, though. It was an entirely new way of thinking about the dining experience, one that combined the culinary experience of a fancy restaurant with the social atmosphere of the local pub.
For Leroy “Bus” Fuller and his sons Stan, Jeff and Stewart, that concept – one that’s been widely copied, with varying degrees of success – has proven to be a real gusher, and that one location has now become 62, with locations in Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario and four in Washington State and Colorado. “We’ve become the masters of creating energy in a casual environment,” says Stan Fuller, the CEO of Earls. “People love to come in and be a part of that.”
Later this month the Fullers will come back to where it all started with the unveiling of a new-and-improved Earls Tin Palace on Jasper. It’s been given a $5.5-million makeover, and while that might seem like an extravagant expense, the Fullers think it deserves it. “The family has such a romantic connection to that location and what it meant to us when we opened it, because it was our first great step in the big time,” Stan Fuller says. “We’re business people and we want to be frugal, but we finally came to the conclusion that when something is that important to you – and so symbolic of you – then it’s not the time to sit on your wallet.”
Your Father’s Earls
If you had access to a time machine and a desire to visit Edmonton in the mid-1980s (we’ll assume that you’re either a hockey fan or a masochist), you’d want to make sure you stopped by the Tin Palace. After all, back then it was more than just a restaurant that served burgers and beer. It was also a scene, the place to go on a Friday or Saturday night, and it became so popular that the restaurant had to hire security to mind the lineups at the door on some nights and keep people from mobbing the local celebrities (including Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and other prominent Edmonton Oilers players) who liked to hang out there.
The Fullers are a close-knit family unit, but there’s still plenty of room in it for some healthy competition between brothers. That’s certainly the case with Stan and Jeff Fuller, who are in charge of competing restaurant chains that often have locations on the same block as each other. That competition, Stan Fuller says, has pushed them both to be better. “We’ve never been happy to let things sit still, and that never was truer than when my brother Jeff was successful with Joey. Once Joey came along, the arms race heated up.”
Earls wasn’t Bus Fuller’s first foray into the restaurant business. Before Earls there was Controlled Foods, a conglomerate of franchises and fast-food outlets that he and partner Ken Fowler sold in 1983. And before that there was an ice cream and hamburger shop in the tiny Montana town of Sunburst where he’d worked for almost a decade as a machinist at the local refinery. “We had sales in the second year of $32,000,” he says. “We do that every day now at some of our locations.”