The Big Orange Lunchbox has been hard to miss for anyone driving down University Avenue in Charlottetown.
Owned by chef James Oja, the restaurant began as a bright orange food trailer which soon became a fixture on the corner of University and Belvedere avenues.
With the lunchbox’s reputation having spread largely from word of mouth and social media throughout the summer, it has now transformed into a full-fledged restaurant located on downtown University Avenue.
Unmistakable with its matching orange sign out front, the restaurant recently celebrated its grand opening.
“I don’t know how to thank everybody,” said Oja. “I’m always blessing karma. Karma is on my side.”
Oja, originally from Alberta, moved to P.E.I. and graduated from the Atlantic Culinary Institute at Holland College. The past several years have seen him work in several roles, including sous chef at Hunter’s and Globe World Flavours, butcher at Bluefield Natural Products and helping start Famous Peppers when it relocated to Charlottetown.
He also began a catering business named The Best Plate Forward, which still operates.
“Progressively, I just kept going,” said Oja, who added he’s always had a passion for cooking. “Everybody told me, ‘you should have a restaurant,’.”
Oja then started The Big Orange Lunchbox through a self-employment program.
From there, the passion for cooking shared between him and his team has guided the restaurant.
It has also been the result of much dedication, with Oja working straight through the past summer.
“I didn’t get to see the beach once,” he said with a grin. “(But) it’s all in how hard you work, it’s all in how much you want it.”
During the food trailer days, Oja and his team earned recognition by serving a full menu of unique burgers, poutines, grilled cheese sandwiches and other items made with local products. Much of those items have now become “the classics” of the lunchbox’s menu.
However, since the relocation in late November, the restaurant has also added a number of entrees.
“I want people to know this is more than a hamburger joint. There’s a lot of culinary talent in this kitchen,” said Oja of his staff.
Since moving into the space, Oja has also obtained a liquor license.
And while the lunchbox has just undergone a major transformation, Oja still has big plans for the future. He plans to continue his catering business and, once the winter passes, the food trailer will see a return.
He added that he hopes to add some entertainment at the restaurant location, such as live music, trivia and a possible comedy night every Friday.
“We’re going to mix it up around here,” said Oja. “We’re just going to try and keep the momentum going. It’s just going to get better and better with time.”