Preparing to leave the Den

Yvonne Ochsner remembers driving home from the Whitehorse airport one day about 14 years ago, in tears.

Yvonne Ochsner remembers driving home from the Whitehorse airport one day about 14 years ago, in tears.

She was picking up her father, visiting from Switzerland, when she ran into another Swiss man who owned a restaurant down south.

The man made a grim prediction – that the restaurant Yvonne planned on opening with her husband, Harry, wouldn’t make it past six months.

“That really motivated us, though,” Yvonne said.

“We knew we could do it.”

Fourteen years later, the owners of the Wolf’s Den restaurant are looking to exit the restaurant business – on their own terms.

The business has been for sale for the past year but neither Harry nor Yvonne is in any rush to close it down, they say.

“If it sells this year, that’s great, but if it doesn’t we’ll keep going,” Harry said.

It was Nov. 6, 2002 when the restaurant, known for its array of authentic Swiss and German food, opened up near the Carcross cut-off.

Yvonne, who had run a courier business in Zurich, spoke little to no English. Harry, a carpenter by trade, couldn’t cook.

They had just received their Canadian residencies the year before and were still living in a friend’s cabin.

The first customers came over from the neighbouring Caribou RV Park and ordered pork chops, French fries and vegetables for lunch.

“I went into the kitchen and didn’t even know which vegetables we were going to cook,” Yvonne said.

“The first few weeks were crazy. Harry was working on an old propane stove.

“Another couple came in and complained about a big black hair they found in their soup but neither of us has black hair.”

But things would quickly settle down for the industrious couple and some first-time customers soon became regulars.

A few of the couples have been spending their anniversaries and birthdays there for the past 14 years, Harry said.

The couple fell in love with the territory during their first visit in 1998.

They went back to Switzerland with plans of returning to Canada and opening a restaurant.

Yvonne wanted to spend a month in the Yukon during the winter, first, to get a feeling for what that would be like.

January 2000 featured both extremes in temperatures. It was -25 C one week and 6 C the next.

“I figured it’s probably something I could live with,” she said.

Harry started drawing up plans on his computer but was quickly brought back down to earth when he showed them to a friend of his.

“Sure, if you have $1.5 million you could probably build it,” he told the couple.

So they scaled down their plans. Eventually, they found a log house for sale along the Alaska Highway and bought it.

In early 2002 they moved it across Whitehorse to the property where it lies today and delicately dropped it on the basement Harry had already built the summer before.

They gutted the inside of the house until it was just an empty shell and built all the furniture themselves.

They’ve served an average of 5,000 people a year since then, they estimate.

Working 16- to 18-hour days in the summer, they rarely had time off. It took them 10 years before they could take a holiday together, one of the reasons they’re selling the restaurant.

“We’re not getting any younger,” Harry said.

“We can’t spend any time together. We can’t go hunting or fishing,” Yvonne added.

“I really want to go up the Dempster Highway and to Dawson City but we don’t have time. If you run a restaurant for 13, 14 years, it’s very demanding.”

They say it’s the customers they’ll miss the most, once the Wolf’s Den has been sold.

One of their longest-running customers, another Swiss couple, came in for the first time in Dec. 2002.

They kept speaking to Yvonne in English, despite knowing her issues with the language.

One day, the man ordered rosti – a Swiss dish similar to a potato pancake – and pronounced the word in perfect German.

“He told us they were Swiss but wanted me to keep practising my English,” Yvonne said.

“That’s exactly what I needed.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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