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Alpine Café gearing up for long-awaited upgrade

Locals’ haunt will see restaurant seating expand into existing retail space
Locals’ haunt Alpine Café is undergoing a long-awaited expansion to add more restaurant seating for patrons.

In a town that seems to reinvent itself with every passing season, it’s the familiar standbys that the locals tend to appreciate the most. For the denizens of Whistler’s original residential neighbourhood, Alpine Café has been that consistent fixture for the past 20 years.

So, when word got out the owners of the locals’ haunt were finally ready to move ahead with the expansion plans they have envisioned for years, they had to reassure their loyal regulars that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“People have said to us: ‘You’re not gonna make it all new-looking, are you?’ The answer to that is no,” said co-owner Kevin Wood. “It’s one of Whistler’s original old buildings and we want to keep the vibe of the place. I don’t want to give away too much, but it will certainly carry the feel of the café and will keep that friendly vibe.”

For years now, one of the few complaints Wood and fellow owner Martini Bart heard about the homegrown café is that there aren’t enough seats to accommodate the demand. With just 16 seats inside, the café struggles with a lack of capacity, particularly in the winter months when the 25 outdoor seats on the patio go mostly unused.

“It’s essentially reimagining the space. The crux of it is the café doesn’t have enough seats and this has been a chronic problem for years. We have needed to increase the seating in there for 10 or 15 years,” Wood said.

The expansion means the café will stretch into the adjacent Alpine Market, also owned by Wood and Bart. A small retail component will be maintained, with essential items such as milk, eggs, pop and chips available for purchase.

Wood said the market has suffered in recent years with the addition of the Your Independent Grocer and the Chevron gas station in nearby Rainbow.

“The store can’t exist in the shadow of Rainbow and the buying power they have, so that has to change,” Wood said.

While the upgrades take place, the convenience store will remain closed, although certain retail items can still be purchased from the café. With the additional seating, Alpine Café’s zoning will shift from a café-deli use to allow a restaurant use.

Among the other planned upgrades are relocating the washroom so it can be accessed from inside the café instead of having patrons walk outside around the back of the building, and replacing the aging wood flooring.

“That’s probably the saddest thing for me, being the son of a cabinetmaker,” Wood said. “My last name is ‘Wood,’ not ‘Vinyl Plank Flooring,’ so I’m pretty sad to see the flooring go, but the health department told us that was a no-no.”

Wood expects the reimagined Alpine Café and Alpine Market will reopen in November—but not before a 20th-anniversary celebration with locals’ deals, live music, and more slated for later this summer.

“We’re talking about maybe extending to a weeklong celebration where we can incorporate community charities like [Whistler Animals Galore] and [the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association] and maybe do a bit of fundraising,” said Wood. “By then we will hopefully have more info about the project in terms of an opening date.”

For the former chefs who opened Alpine Café in 2003, the expansion has been a long time coming.

“Martini and I, when we planned this expansion years ago, our goal was to have our 50th birthday in the new space. We both turned 56 this year, and we’re still waiting. Maybe we’ll have our 60th in there,” Wood joked.