'Chandeliers on the ceiling': This Alberta gas station could win Canada's Best Restroom contest
Customers have remarked it's 'nicer than their house', says owner-operator Mo Kabalan
Update: Cintas announced Tuesday that The Beaver Hill Shell station restroom in Lac La Biche, Alta., has won the Canada's Best Restroom contest.
The Beaver Hill Shell station restroom in Lac La Biche, Alta., is not the picture of your standard gas station toilet.
This gas station toilet is nice — so nice it was recently named a top-five finalist in the Cintas "Canada's Best Restroom" contest.
Mo Kabalan is the owner of the Beaver Hill Shell. He spoke with As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay about his remarkably deluxe gas station lavatory.
I, like many Canadians, have been in our fair share of gas station washrooms, and most of them are unremarkable at best. What do your restrooms look like?
They're pretty clean and fancy. They've got tiles from floor to ceiling. You got granite sinks. We've got handmade wooden doors [on the stalls] for the toilets.
And what about the lights? Because often you go and you flick on the lights, and they don't work in bathrooms.
Oh no, ours are on, like, motion sensors. When you walk in they come in automatically and then we have chandeliers from the ceiling.
You have chandeliers in your gas station bathroom?
I guess, you know, the most important question is, why? Why do this at your gas station washroom?
Why not? I don't know. It's just somewhere for people to stop, and so they don't skip us.
We used to live in Fort McMurray, and it was a long drive to Edmonton. And we wouldn't stop anywhere 'til we got home. So that was a painful five-hour drive.
[My wife] would rather go on the side of the road than some of the washrooms that's out there.
And so, when people stop by your washroom, most people I think just have to kind of go. And they stop, you know, at the next gas station on the road. They don't plan to stop at a specific gas station. So when they stop at yours and they see chandeliers, and granite counters and wooden doors, what kind of comments do they say to you?
Well, I've seen people run out and get the people in their vehicle to come over and look at the bathroom.
They're like, "This is nicer than my house." And, you know, a couple guys commented, saying, "Oh you should have a soaker tub in there."
And do you know if it was one of your patrons — someone who used your washroom in the past —who nominated you for Canada's Best Restroom?
Yeah, it was a lady that worked actually down the road from us, at Home Hardware.
She heard the competition last year on the radio ... and then she's like, "You guys should be on there," and all that stuff. So I was like, "Well go ahead and nominate us. Maybe we'll win."
And she's frequented your washrooms, this woman who works at the Home Hardware nearby?
Yeah, yeah. She comes here all the time for food. And to use the bathroom, I guess.
So this is a real competition. And you were the only gas station washroom to be in the finals. All the others, as expected, are in restaurants — many of them higher-end restaurants. But Beaver Hill Shell is more than a gas station that provides a loo for us, right? You provide a deli as well.
Yeah. We have fresh foods that we make. We got thin-crust pizza. We got sandwiches, we got everything. Everything we make here is from scratch.
So it's more than just a gas station, I'd say. It's just like a one-stop rest-stop, I'd say. You come here, get your coffee, your food — you know, kick your feet back up, relax for a minute. Hit the road.
You said you and your wife used to live in Fort McMurray. And you lost your house in the wildfires, I understand, right?
Yeah. That was a few years back.
We put a lot of effort into it. It took like years to build this, before we even opened. We're here from ground zero, right? I spend more time in this place than I spend in my house.
And then the kids come over, and hang out sometimes, and you know, they even work the till sometimes.
So if you win this contest ... and are crowned Canada's Best Restroom — which I understand is next week, when you may win these honours — do you get more than bragging rights?
They give you 2,500 bucks to just keep up your bathroom. And I think you get a little trophy, so it'd been nice to have it up here.
Any celebrations planned?
We'll see, maybe. Take the staff for dinner somewhere, I don't know.
Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.