Iglu Donairs only the beginning for Rankin Inlet chef

John Niakrok hopes to grow from operating arena canteen to opening his own brick-and-mortar establishment

John Niakrok, owner of Iglu Donairs, flips a burger during off-peak hours at his arena canteen on Oct. 21. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For most people, donairs are just tasty. For John Niakrok, they are a career opportunity.

Niakrok spent nine years working as a corrections officer in Rankin Inlet. The job was difficult, hours sporadic, and he didn’t get to see his two children, ages seven and three, as much as he wanted to.

On his days off, he doubled as a chef, cooking for the residents of Rankin Inlet — a passion of his.

He made donairs, steak sandwiches and Indian tacos, among other dishes, and people would pick it up from his house. And they loved it. Batches of 40 donairs could sell out in two hours.

“Demand was pretty high,” Niakrok said.

Rankin Inlet’s Agnico Eagle Arena is home to bleachers, an ice rink and Iglu Donairs. (Photo by David Venn)

So when he saw the hamlet post an opening last year for a contractor to run a restaurant out of Rankin Inlet’s Agnico Eagle Arena, he looked at it as a new opportunity, a way to build upon his business.

“I made a big step and wrote up my resignation letter,” he said of the move.

“I needed a change and I was starting to not enjoy my job. It was a tough decision to make, but I’m happy where I am right now.”

Iglu Donairs opened in January this year. With eight part-time staffers, Niakrok sells burgers, poutines, pizza and specials like Chinese pork spare ribs.

Even with running his own business, he said he now has more time with his family.

“It was a tough job, corrections,” he said. “I missed out on a lot with my family because of shift work.”

Business has been good, he said, especially when the hamlet hosts hockey tournaments in the arena.

Rankin Inlet resident Bryan Nattar picks up his lunch order from Iglu Donairs Friday afternoon. (Photo by David Venn)

In September, during this fall’s Kivalliq Trade Show, Iglu Donairs had to close to the public as it handled its first large catering order.

Niakrok prepared different kinds of country food, candied Arctic char and drinks for 150 to 200 people.

“I was kind of nervous at first. Like, 200 people — how are we going to do it?” he said. “It turned out good.”

This, he hopes, is just the beginning. His contract with the hamlet runs until 2024, with the option to extend it until 2025. After that, he said, he wants to have his own restaurant.

“I’m hoping to have a solid business plan in a couple years and hopefully open up my own place and start from there,” Niakrok said, before frying up a bacon cheeseburger with no tomato or onion.

Correction: This story has been updated to correctly reflect how many years John Niakrok worked as a corrections officer.

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(25) Comments:

  1. Posted by Rules for thee… on

    First off, props to this guy for seeing an opportunity to make a change in his life, size it and flourish. And in the process allowing 8 other people to join him on this journey.

    But, especially with all the ethnic foods mentioned in this article it does raise a question. Often you will see people complain that a “Qalunaat” is taking “Inuit patterns” and selling them. And that’s bad. It’s “cultural appropriation.” Why does the same not apply for food? Did anyone working there spend time in China to learn the proper traditions of braized pork? Or go to India for some “tacos?”

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    • Posted by Observation Post on

      I thought the exact same when I read this. You just know that the writer of the piece would slip in all sorts of neurosis around appropriation, if John was ‘white.’

      That said, I do not have the same interpretation of ‘cultural appropriation’ you might and I don’t find what John is doing objectionable either. Good for him.

      Recently I heard it said that we belong to culture, culture does not belong to us.

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    • Posted by The Feather or the Dot? on

      You need to learn more about Indian Tacos, my friend.

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      • Posted by Zipping on

        This is true, but two things; John is neither… and tacos don’t originate with either.

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    • Posted by oh ima on

      Indian taco is the First Nations version of Taco instead of Taco, fried bannock is used or fried bread! Also, First Nations call it Indian Taco!
      John is a former coworker and is one of the most positive guys around! He always willing to help me during my time working at RHC. I am happy for him and his family in taking this. I hope to pass by Rankin sometime and have a meal created by him.

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      • Posted by Rules for thee on

        I’m happy for the guy too, and I guess I was wrong since calling Native Americans “Indian” has fallen out of fashion. I’m not trying to knock the guy for what he’s doing I’m for people making food that tastes good. It doesn’t matter where it came from. I’m just trying to have a discussion on why this cultural exchange for profit is okay, but other forms aren’t.

        Iqiliit Tacos anyone?

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        • Posted by Jack Sparrow on

          Iqiliit Tacos? Yes, please. They’re good. How ‘ bout “Native B.L.T”?
          (Bannock, Lard& Tea)

        • Posted by Silas on

          In Inuit tradition food has always been a form of bringing people together. It is a way for people to greet each other and become friends or at least to become familiar with each other as a form of peace making.
          The concerns about cultural appropriation have been more about products invented by Inuit being used to profit themselves.

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    • Posted by buy n sell on

      Nunavut’s buy and sell pages are filled with people trying to make a quick buck selling questionable sushi. I wonder what all the Japanese sushi chefs think of this. Cultural appropriation too? Really, who cares. Cultural appropriation is everywhere, just a few people everywhere who try to get offended by everything. Relax and enjoy the food 🙂

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      • Posted by How it looks from here on

        No one here is offended, except apparently you?

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    • Posted by Kermit Froglegs on

      Wow!! That’s what you got from the story? So if a chef in Yellowknife cooks COD, are the Newfie’s going to say something about it? No! Not one person in this day in age does anyone, but you proved me wrong, Godforbid he makes a kilk or spam sandwich, Hawaii we’ll come a knocking. Please educate yourself with culture, the world is full with beautiful cuisines,(that’s food).

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    • Posted by Chris markell on

      You must be crazy…best food in rankin? Bahahaha

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      • Posted by The E on

        I haven’t eaten at John’s so I can’t say either way, but I can say that otherwise Rankin doesn’t have any good restaurants anymore, all the good ones have closed up and the mediocre as hell ones run by the Coop somehow manage to go on and on, probably because they are located in hotels.

  2. Posted by S on

    by far the most absent career choice in Nunavut is entrepreneur – if we exclude bootleggers and drug pushers

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    • Posted by 867 on

      Over 50% of Nunavut seems to sell carvings and random artsy knick-knacks to qallunaat workers. How is that not entrepreneurship?

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    • Posted by No Nonsense Larry on

      Sounds like you have a case of sour grapes! Starting a business is actually a lot of work, maybe you should get out of the comments section and actually put ur hours in, G.N is filled with people like you who spend time during business hours to knock down someone actually working at improving their community with more services.

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      • Posted by It’s True tho on

        S is right though, there is almost no focus on entrepreneurship in Nunavut. All we seem to dream of is getting a job with the GN; and why not, good pay, nice pension, almost no education required and a huge tolerance for incompetence.

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      • Posted by S on

        On the contrary, Nonsense Larry, I admire Mr. Niakrok – for his spirit and his entrepreneurosm; Nunavut needs more like him than any other professional – to have any chance to succeed as a distinct society.

        Otherwise it will go the way of other antisocial socialist states

  3. Posted by snapshot on

    Alianai, congratulations and it’s just a beginning!

    Luck is more often than not a result of hard work. Best of luck.

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  4. Posted by Congrats! on

    This is amazing. It really is true we do not have enough diversity in our options here for entertainment and food.
    I love to see this type of business open in our communities:)
    Congratulations!!

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  5. Posted by Resident on

    Way to go John and your spouse. I love your food, and great service all the time. I notice the hard work put into this business and I can see it going further. Keep it up 👍

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