'Massive' artisan burgers, renowned sticky buns, fresh roasted coffee and a large selection of Jefferson State craft beers are among the culinary attractions that bring rave reviews to YAKS On The 5.
Mike and Nancy Kerns found a sweet spot for their YAKS On The 5 cafe in Dunsmuir – and it goes far beyond their highly-desired Bourbon and Bailey’s Pecan Sticky Buns.
The online website Yelp recently listed YAKS On The 5 as one of its “Top 100 Places to Eat in the US in 2015.”
A frequently used digital directory for travelers, Yelp reported that its list was created based on customer reviews, with extra weight given to reviews made in 2014.
Of 228 Yelp reviews for the Dunsmuir YAKS, 186 gave a full five stars.
YAKS’ “massive” artisan hamburgers and large selection of Jefferson State craft beers are frequently mentioned in reviews, as are their “killer sticky buns,” coffees, garlic fries, dressings and sauces.
They roast their own coffee in the back of the restaurant after hours and make all their food in the onsite kitchen and bakery.
The sensory experience inside includes sights as well as aromas, such as works by local artists, ceiling and wall murals, and naturally stylish fixtures and accessories purchased from the Etsy website.
“I can’t believe in the middle of almost no-where, resides one of the better restaurants I have ever been too (sic),” wrote one reviewer from Sacramento.
Larry E. from Grants Pass, Ore., described the jalapeno bacon burger he had at YAKS On The 5 as “probably the best cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my life.”
Makes you wonder if Guy Fieri and his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives crew might be showing up in Dunsmuir someday soon.
Mike Kerns said Granzella’s in Williams was an inspiration for turning YAKS On The 5 into a destination spot that creates “a wow experience” for diners.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Mike said of being No. 92 on Yelp’s Top 100 list. “We’re so humbled. It’s a testament to our staff, food and customers.”
“We thought it would take five to 10 years to get this crazy,” said Nancy as she came out of the kitchen while waiting on customers early last Wednesday afternoon. “It’s the power of social media. I didn’t know it had so much power.”
Mike and Nancy do have a background in marketing and, the way Mike described it, they see advertising as “a wagon wheel; we’re trying to use all the spokes.”
They use both real and virtual billboards, including three highway signs north of Redding that feature “delicious photographs of food.”
They have a large banner on the south wall of YAKS On The 5 that is easily seen from the busy gas station/minimart next door. It announces that they offer a 25 percent discount on meals for anyone who brings in a gas receipt from that day’s purchase of five gallons or more.
Mike said he spends time every day responding to reviews, blogging, twittering, posting on Instagram, Google-plus and other social media. They also get help in that effort from a local artist/social media guru.
So when Mike pulls out his iPhone and tells Siri he’s hungry, YAKS On The 5 is at the top of “her” list of suggested places to eat.
Customers who post reviews on Yelp, referred to as yelpers, “know how to use the digital billboard to find what’s relevant to them,” Mike said.
Many of them are “30-something with kids” who live in major metropolitan areas, he said. They’re finding it easy to get on and off Interstate 5 at exit 730 to enjoy a meal at YAKS On The 5 in Dunsmuir.
“Once they’re here, we point people to places like the Dunsmuir Brewery, the Veterans Memorial on Highway 97, Bunny Flat, and other places in Siskiyou County,” Mike said. “There’s so many great things to see around here.”
Mike said he knew about the Top 100 Places to Eat list Yelp put out last year, so he was interested to see what was on the new list that came out last week.
“I was reading through places in Hawaii, Arizona, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento,” Mike said. “Then I noticed Dunsmuir, looked over, and it’s us! I called my wife and said, ‘Honey, look at this!’”
One contact led to another and pretty soon they were being interviewed by TV news and radio stations and being featured on the front page of area newspapers.
“We’re humbled at this great recognition,” he said.
Yaks grew out Mike and Nancy’s involvement with The Vineyard Community in Redding and getting together with other people who loved good coffee.
The name YAKS is an acronym for Yes Another Koffee Shop.
After they opened their first YAKS in Redding about 13 years ago, they opened six more. They started as a non-profit, then became a for-profit business.
When the economy took its nosedive about 2008, “it forced us to reconsider our business model,” Mike said.
They were selling their at that time to Snowcrest Cafe in Mount Shasta. When they heard Snowcrest was closing its cafe, they worked out a deal to purchase it.
Returning to their roots in the Mt. Shasta area from Redding, “we discovered tourists,” Mike said. “There are no tourists in Redding. There are people from around the world in Mount Shasta.”
Soon they decided to not renew their leases in Redding and focus on Mount Shasta.
They opened YAKS in Mount Shasta in 2012 and opened in Dunsmuir in July 2013 with a full kitchen, bakery and coffee roaster that they now use to supply both of their Koffee shops.
They make sauces, dressings, health bars, cookies, and bagels. Mike said “people see visions” after eating the Bourbon and Bailey’s Pecan Sticky Buns, even though all the alcohol has been cooked out of them.
He said they worked with Prather Ranch to develop a proprietary blend of grass-fed hormone-free dry-aged natural hamburger beef using a mix of chuck, brisket and short rib. But “the secret,” Mike disclosed, is the prime white fat they use to blend the meats.
They frame broil their meat and bake their own buttery French brioche buns for the burgers.
Mike said, “It’s the most humbling thing in the world to see the comments on Yelp like, ‘the best hamburger I’ve eaten in my life.’ We’re pinching ourselves.”
They give customers 15 burger options “to create a unique experience.” Burgers with names like Bacon Overload, Jalapeno-licious, Chipotle Burger and even a Karma King Veggie Burger.
They serve espresso drinks, paninis, salads, appetizers, and much more.
They have about a dozen beers on tap from “Jefferson State” regional breweries like Etna, Dunsmuir, and Fall River.
They employ 12 to 15 people in the Mount Shasta and Dunsmuir cafes and have had good success finding high quality employees, Mike said.
Their philosophy about customers is simple: “We work hard to help our staff understand that people come in here to spend their hard-earned money,” Mike said. “We want them to have a great experience.”
It seems to be working. Last summer, Mike said they were serving up to 1,000 customers a day at times, approximately 80 percent of them people passing by on Interstate-5.
One of them was a Google employee who was driving a Mustang Cobra, Mike said.
He had a hamburger and said, “I have to tell you, I’ve eaten a lot of burgers. This is what Gordon Ramsay’s burgers in Las Vegas should taste like.”
“YAKS is doing a great job,” said Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Richard Dinges. “We’re privileged to have a restaurant like that, and they’re supporters of the Chamber.”
Mike Kerns and Dinges both pointed out that YAKS On The 5 is one of many high quality restaurants in Dunsmuir.
“We’re rather proud of our local restaurants,” said Dinges. “This will be a destination place.”
For many, it already is.