By now you’ve likely heard the news: Ingrid’s Village Café is closing its doors after 35 years of serving Whistler.
While the popular breakfast and lunch spot, located in the heart of the village, was initially opened by its namesake back in 1986, sisters-in-law Fiona Minton and Nancy MacConnachie took a leap 18 years ago and bought it.
“We bought it in 2003 as the Olympics were being announced,” MacConnachie said. “We were in the village watching the Olympic announcement with that whole big crowd … We had already signed the deal, but we were like, ‘Fingers crossed Olympics are coming to Whistler.’ And they announced it and the crowd went wild. We looked across to Ingrid’s and we knew we did the right thing.”
The subsequent 18 years were busy ones for the pair, raising families while running the restaurant. Not surprisingly, the 2010 Olympics ended up being both a highlight and an exhausting experience.
“Because of the buses that people had to [take] really early, we were pretty much open from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.,” MacConnachie said. “It was just so fun and amazing. I look back on that—I had three young kids at the time—and I think, ‘How did I do that?’ But it was fun and a wild time.”
When the pair initially took over the space from Ingrid’s son, they planned to stay true to her original, unconventional vision.
“We followed his lead and kept with the original recipes because it was a business that worked,” Minton said. “It sold good, fresh food and it was served to the locals … As the years progressed, food fashion changes and you adapt and move along with that.”
One example: it turns out Ingrid herself had three recipes for the well-loved veggie burgers the restaurant offered. But Minton and MacConnachie tweaked those recipes to add vegan or gluten-free items to the menu.
“She was an immigrant from Germany and we have customers still to this day who were here when Ingrid ran the place,” MacConnachie said. “She was quite a character. She would pretty much just make whatever she wanted to make or whatever fresh ingredients were on hand. She would tell people what they were having for lunch.”
In keeping with that mysterious style, it was an off-the-menu item that proved to have enduring popularity over the years.
“Our freestyle wrap… was invented by a customer maybe eight, 10 years ago,” MacConnachie said. “It’s never been written down anywhere. It’s never been on a menu board. Yet it’s spread through word of mouth, through tourists, and we sell about 25 of them a day … It’s become quite funny how it’s this undercover freestyle wrap that is a coveted lunch menu item.”
It’s all the more impressive considering just how many employees—largely women, for a reason they can’t quite pinpoint—from all around the world have put on the Ingrid’s apron over the years.
Over 18 years, they’ve had more than 350 employees—and helped about 20 become Canadian citizens. “We also follow about 20 Ingrid’s babies on Facebook,” MacConnachie added.
“Our longest employee lasted about five-and-a-half years—we’ve had several long-term ones—and the shortest I’d say was about five-and-a-half hours,” she said with a laugh.
In truth, the never-ending cycle of the resort’s seasonal staffing is one thing they’re happy to say goodbye to.
Overall, though, the time felt right for MacConnachie and Minton to try something new.
“We just felt it was time for us to try something else and have a break from dealing with this rollercoaster ride at times that Whistler can be,” Minton said.
New owners will take over the space and while it will remain a restaurant, it will be a completely different concept.
“It’s been great owning a local business—lots of flexibility while we were both raising families and now our kids have grown up and it’s time for us to move on as well,” MacConnachie said. “It’s just time to move on and try some different things.”
But first, before they close their doors on March 29, they’re paying homage to the last (almost) two decades with a daily special competition in which customers can come in, share their favourite breakfast or lunch special, and, potentially, see it featured on the specials board—along with winning a free meal.
“We’re going to be contacting old staff we’re in contact with and asking them for their favourite special,” MacConnachie added. “We welcome anyone to come in and if they have a special they want to see on the board as a memory thing, come in and let us know and we’ll make it happen.”