Nicole Drake’s excitement is palpable.
Ever since she was tapped to be the head chef for Alta Bistro’s café spinoff, she’s been eagerly asking friends, family and anyone else with tastebuds for their menu ideas.
“Someone told me they’re missing a good Nicoise salad in town, so, boom, I’m putting a Nicoise salad on the menu. Another friend went to the city and she had a matcha croissant and said we need to do that, so we are,” said Drake. “That’s the whole point of cooking, isn’t it? I make myself happy, but it’s for other people, too. I love making people happy.”
Drake will have plenty of opportunity to spread the joy at Alpha Café, a concept a couple years in the making for Eric Griffith and the rest of the team at the award-winning Alta Bistro.
“It’s a little offshoot of Alta. Everything is getting produced in the kitchen at Alta and we’ve got plans for service on the café side,” said Griffith, owner and wine director. “We’re looking to have a cool, casual place that people can come in the morning or midday for breakfast and lunch.”
Located just one door down from Alta Bistro in the Pinnacle Hotel Whistler Village, Alpha Café will not only share a kitchen space with its parent restaurant, but its penchant for inventive, seasonal cuisine made from the finest hyperlocal ingredients.
A former sous chef for Alta Bistro who left in 2021 to work for Whistler’s Rising Knead Bakery, Drake said the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability and forging close ties to local producers are the two biggest elements she wants to incorporate into the new café.
“We’ve built such a good relationship with the farms up in Pemberton and everyone is so excited for this to happen that they want to throw their products at us and see what we can do with them. We have so many different suppliers that anyone can just bring whatever they’re most proud of,” she explained. “I barely have to go in search for anything. People come to us.”
Drake said she was inspired by the coffee culture in her native Australia when conceptualizing the café.
“There are so many cafés in Melbourne that I’ve always loved going to. I miss those takeout treats, those pocket things you can take and eat right away,” she said. “I see it as this sit-down café where you can come in and have that familiarity with the staff. I feel like sometimes, there’s just such a massive lineup to go to places on the Stroll, so I like that we’re off the Stroll and you have to know where to find us.”
The menu will skew towards standard breakfast fare—think sandwiches, breakky bowls, quiche and other gourmet pastries—elevated to the standard Alta Bistro is known for, along with some unique items emerging directly out of Drake’s mad-scientist brain. Like, for example, what Drake is calling the “tasty-mite cheese scroll,” her take on a classic Aussie pastry that features that uniquely Down Under spread, vegemite.
“I’ve started making my own version of vegemite; I found a recipe online from this guy who used to make it for his restaurant because he had so many Aussies coming in,” she said. “It’s just this crazy, umami, cheesy, buttery pastry. It’s going to change your life. It’s also for the people who say they don’t like vegemite.”
The coffee, meanwhile, will come from Alta Bistro’s longtime supplier, Vancouver’s Milano Coffee Roasters, and will focus on espresso-based drinks.
“It’s not like a coffee shop with food as a sidebar,” Griffith noted. “It’s going to be food-focused—with coffee as a focus, too.”
The décor hews to Alta Bistro’s usual local emphasis, with a sleek, contemporary look that plays off of Whistler’s alpine setting.
“We used a lot of local materials, and we used all local craftsmen to do it,” Griffith said. “The initial vibe, what we were going for was modern mountain, or mountain chic, capturing the colour tones of what we have here in the forest, in the rock—the types of colours you see on a mountain.”
Planned to open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, Griffith said ideally the café would eventually extend its hours into the evening. More than anything, Griffith is hopeful Alpha Café serves as a go-to spot to catch up with a friend or host a meeting.
“We’ve managed to get a number of seats inside, so it will be quite a comfortable place to come sit and meet someone, versus a coffee shop where you may have limited seating,” he said. “That’s what I was envisioning: a place people can rely on to get a seat.”
Griffith is hopeful the café will be ready to open by the end of the month.