“Nobody messes with Mary, okay?”
That’s just one of the many shoot-from-the-hip third person missives you’ll receive when you engage in conversation with the woman known to many of her customers simply as “The Legend.” She’s one of Vancouver’s true originals, and the last of her kind.
For a staggering 51 years, Mary Tasker has worked in the Vancouver parks concession business. She began her life-long career at the Second Beach concession stand in the summer of 1965 when she was just a teenager. Tasker remembers the fish for the fish ‘n’ chips arrived in a large frozen block, and that she had to peel and slice the potatoes into french fries herself.
In the summer of 1970, newlywed and with a newborn baby, she moved across town to where she proudly remains: on the furthest eastern edge of the city at the New Brighton concession stand, in the building attached to the outdoor pool.
When asked why she’s stuck with the gig for such an incredibly long time, Tasker doesn’t hesitate.
“It’s the people,” she says. “I love the people. I’ve served some of them for 40 years. They love my fish ‘n’ chips. Some families are onto their third generation coming down here, but it’s not as busy as it once was. People can’t afford to live in Vancouver anymore.”
And what does she say to critics in food-mad Vancouver who think she should update her menu from burgers and french fries to a more healthier, localized fare? Tasker doesn’t mince words.
“We’ve tried all that! We had salads, we had paninis, they just don’t sell! I had fresh fruit and I had to throw it out because they don’t buy it.”
Okay, so what do her customers buy?
“French fries. It’s our most popular item, year after year after year,” beams Tasker. “The families are only here for the day and they want a treat.” Tasker grows plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit in her own private area of the New Brighton compound for she and her husband Al, a retired police officer, but those don’t make it onto the menu. “That’s not allowed.”
Besides running the concession stand from Victoria Day long weekend to Labour Day, the couple also serve as the live-in caretakers for New Brighton Park, in a one-bedroom suite adjacent to the concession stand. When it comes to the caretaking, Mary is the bad cop.
“We get all types down here at night. It’s the east side, you know? And I don’t back down. I don’t put up with any crap. You can’t. I’ll chase ‘em right out of here.”
Besides the human kind of wild, Tasker has also had to deal with all sorts of the furry kind of wild over the years as well. “We’ve had bear, cougar, and deer down here. I once looked out and saw a cow running down the railway tracks that escaped from the PNE. We’ve seen it all”
It doesn’t take an eagle eye to see that Mary Tasker takes great pride in her concession stand, which she’s been at the helm of for an incredible 47 straight summers. Most of the open kitchen boasts the original equipment, and it’s all completely spotless. She passes on her no-nonsense work ethic to her mostly teenage staff. “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean!”
Her rules for her customers are pretty simple: be polite, don’t let your kids sit on the counter, and don’t try to wheel and deal.
“I have people saying ‘Well, if I buy five burgers can I have it at this price?’ NO! My name isn’t Monty Hall, it’s Mary Tasker. This isn’t Let’s Make A Deal, it’s the New Brighton concession stand! The price is the price!
“But most people are great.”
Tasker is one tough cookie on the outside, but a true softy on the inside. She gets emotional when she thinks of her untouchable legacy.
“I don’t want to go anywhere. I love it here. This is my home. I’ll keep doing this for as long as I can.”
Cheers to that. Long live the Legend of New Brighton Park!