‘The Colonel Sanders of the North’

The trip from Hay River to High Level, shown on Google Maps. (Screenshot from Google Maps.)
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Through adversity comes opportunity. For Ryan Shank, the pandemic provided an opportunity for him to deliver food for his community, and be given the nickname “The Colonel Sanders of the North,” in the process.

“I’ve lived here in town for about 12 years now,” said Shank. “Before the pandemic, a lot of people would make monthly trips down to High Level or Grand Prairie to do a really big grocery shop.”

Shank said even if he took time off work and factored in the cost of gas for making the trip, a person could still save a couple of hundred dollars every month making the trip.

Shank is set for his biggest delivery on December 20, just ahead of Christmas. Photo supplied by Ryan Shank.

With the GNWT implementing mandatory self-isolation periods for people travelling outside the territory, those grocery runs were no longer an option. But Shank contacted a couple of work friends who lived in High Level, Alberta and started coordinating border meetups where they could load up people’s grocery orders. It’s about 160 kilometres away for both of them.

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Shank stripped the seats out of his GMC Yukon, giving him “plenty of space” for deliveries. He packs boxes of groceries into his car and hires a friend to come with his truck if they can’t all fit.

Shank started off with 16 people submitting orders for his first trip. That grew to 38 for his second trip, and 46 for the upcoming trip. His trip on December 20 will see him deliver toys as well as groceries to more than 60 people.

Among the most popular requests are buckets of KFC, which Shank delivers to people’s door for a $25 fee.

“It’s actually pretty gross how much chicken I’ve been bringing up,” said Shank. “My last order was like $1,700 worth.” Hence the nickname “The Colonel Sanders of the North.”

The first two trips, Shank helped his friends from Alberta load the truck. But Protect NWT contacted him, and were really encouraging about the project according to Shank, but he couldn’t load the trucks.

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Now Shank’s friends load the groceries, and he delivers them to people’s homes from there.

Shank charges a flat fee of $65 delivery for groceries, opposed to charging by weight because that can “really drive up the cost.” People usually order around four boxes of groceries, about $300’s worth.

Shank is currently doing orders every other week, but hopes to step that up to weekly trips soon. He’s also waiting on confirmation for a grant from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment to support him in continuing doing the trips.

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