The new owners of the Airport Chalet didn’t plan on becoming restaurateurs when they moved to Whitehorse this summer.
“When we decided to move up here, our mindset was that we were going to be general contractors,” said new owner D’arcy Olynyk.
Olynyk and his wife SeKyoung Park had the experience and the skills to make a contracting business work.
He had spent years working as a general contractor in the Lower Mainland, while his wife worked as an interior designer.
Their plans were years in the making.
Olynyk, who grew up in Dawson City, always wanted to return to the Yukon.
When he came up with his wife seven years ago to show her the territory, they arrived in the dead of winter.
“I figured, let’s get the worst part over with first,” he said.
Park, who is originally from South Korea, wasn’t bothered by the cold, but the couple wanted to have all their ducks in a row before they relocated.
“I wanted to be on the top of my game as a contractor when we made the move,” said Olynyk. “There’s no end to what you can learn in construction.”
When they arrived in Whitehorse, it wasn’t long before all those plans went out the window.
Olynyk picked up some construction work, but when he found out that the Airport Chalet was up for sale he jumped at the opportunity.
All he had to do was convince his wife, which turned out to be easy.
She was on board from the get-go.
“I just thought, what the heck,” said Park. “I love meeting new people and I meet a lot of them here.”
The couple took over the business in October.
So far it’s been going well.
“Our numbers are really good,” said Olynyk. “We’re doing better than the same time last year.”
But it hasn’t been without its challenges.
Neither of them had any experience running a restaurant or a hotel, but in the last few weeks they’ve had a crash course in the hospitality business.
“You have to do everything,” said Park. “But it’s good to have to do it to understand the business.”
Olynyk sees some parallels between being a contractor and his new business venture.
“You have to be able to problem solve,” he said. “You need to have farmer smarts.”
But they haven’t been doing it alone.
“Some of the staff have really stepped up to the plate and helped us,” said Olynyk.
They’ve also tapped family and friends to help out.
Olynyk’s mother, Elizabeth, who managed several hotels in northern BC, is helping run that side of the business.
He’s also been getting some sage advice from his father-in-law, a retired efficiency expert.
“He’s been a real gold mine for me,” said Olynyk.
They also brought in their good friend Tony Delaney to manage the bar.
Years ago, Delaney, a singer/songwriter who often works as a cruise ship entertainer, helped Olynyk land a job on a cruise line after he suffered an injury that left him temporarily unable to work in construction.
When he bought the restaurant, Olynyk was able to return the favour.
“I called him up and said, ‘Tony, I need a singing bartender.’”
While the lunch business is good, the evenings are another story.
Olynyk hopes that by bringing in some live music and shaking things up a bit, they’ll be able to change that.
This weekend they’re kicking it off with a winter season banquet that will feature live entertainment, special cocktails raffles and an auction for a chef’s experience – a meal prepared with local Yukon ingredients served by the chef personally.
“We’re going to make a go of it and try to bring some energy back to the evenings,” said Olynyk.
While they’re changing some things, like updating the computer system, they don’t want to change too much, too soon.
For instance the menu is staying pretty much the same.
“It’s comfort food,” said Olynyk. “But just because something is meat and potatoes doesn’t mean it can’t be the best meat and potatoes.”
“We want to continue the old owners’ legacy, and keep the heart and soul of the place intact,” added Park.
The history of the Airport Chalet was what attracted the couple to the business in the first place.
First opened in 1950, it’s one of the oldest businesses in Whitehorse.
Ironically, while the couple never planned to own a restaurant, the Airport Chalet was never intended to be a restaurant.
The building was originally part of an army base and used to house soldiers working on the Alaska Highway.
“It’s a real unique place,” said Olynyk. “It reflects some of the original character of the Yukon.
“Our goal is to build up the business, but we want to maintain that character.”
As a kid growing up in Dawson, Olynyk said he never really understood what Jim Robb meant when he talked about the colourful five percenters.
But now that he owns the Airport Chalet, he gets it.
“Cities in the south are dying for original people,” he said. “But our patrons are truly original Yukoners.”
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