Tribes relishes restaurant connection
Klaus Tribes is finding some habits die hard.
The vibrant 73-year-old sometimes catches himself driving towards 30th Avenue from his East Hill home when he is supposed to be running errands elsewhere.
After nearly 40 years as owner of KT’s Heritage Restaurant, it’s an honest mistake. Tribes has dedicated more than half of his life to the establishment, which he sold recently, and it has provided him with some remarkable memories.
Tribes acquired the restaurant, originally a Boston Pizza franchise, “in a weaker moment” in the mid-1970s.
He was a member of the Edmonton police force at the time. It turns out his academy training, not to mention an imposing stature, would come in handy during the late-night bar rush.
“Every Friday and Saturday, there’d be a fight in here with somebody,” he chuckled. “Back then, I used to say ‘It’s good exercise.’
“Ten minutes before 2 a.m., there’s hardly anybody in here. Ten minutes after, there’s 30 people waiting to get in. It used to be packed.”
Tribes ended his partnership with Boston Pizza in 1994, and renamed the restaurant KT’s.
Over the years, he has achieved some impressive marketing coups. Tribes recalls inviting the B.C. Lions to the restaurant as they toured the province after winning the Grey Cup in 1985.
There was one slight hiccup: “The Grey Cup didn’t arrive until the next day and the Lions had moved on,” grinned Tribes.
The foible worked out in his favour as the Cup’s late arrival ensured him a full restaurant two days straight.
“I would never turn down an idea,” he added. “I would always go after it.”
Tribes struck promotional gold when he started hosting Survivor nights at KT’s in the early 2000s. Teaming up with former local radio personality Dean Perry, they hosted fans of the popular reality TV show Thursday nights, offering ballots, prizes and menu deals.
The highlight came when Tribes invited Tom (Big Tom) Buchanan, a popular competitor from the show’s third season, to KT’s as a promotional stunt.
Once it was announced on CHBC, “Two minutes later the phone started to ring. My son (Ian) was answering the phone, switching between line one and line two taking reservations,” said Tribes.
“When we picked him (Buchanan) up at the Kelowna airport, we could hardly get out because people recognized him right away. On 30th Avenue, cars were stopping and honking. It was amazing.”
Tribes ended up winning the marketer of the year from the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce for that one.
A former president and director of Downtown Vernon Association, and city councillor for 18 years, Tribes has been a huge advocate for the community. He is also a long-time supporter of Vernon minor hockey.
He helped spearhead the downtown revitalization project in the late 1970s.
“You need to always improve the place you work at. The downtown is really our front yard,” he said.
“We were one of the first towns in the province to revitalize. It was important. In those days, the malls were killing downtowns.”
Tribes’ family immigrated to Canada in 1957. Stuck in East Germany after the second world war, they escaped through the Berlin Wall in 1949.
“Things just weren’t going well (in West Germany),” said Tribes. “I thank my dad (Willy) many times in my thoughts that he had the courage to come over here. He couldn’t speak a word of English.”
The life of a restaurant owner is not an easy one, and Tribes sometimes wonders whether leaving the police force was the right decision.
“It gave me a living. Restaurant work is not a job; it’s a way of life. You’re in it 24 hours a day,” said Tribes, who has two sons – Trevor, a Mountie, and Ian – with wife Pat.
However, without KT’s, he wouldn’t have forged the relationships and fond memories he has today.
“It was fun to serve them, it was fun to look after them. I know couples who have met here in the restaurant, got married and brought their kids in with them.
“I saw all that, and that is heartwarming. That makes it all worthwhile, all these wonderful people I’ve met here over the years.”