Strip clubs, barbecue salmon and Jesus

Show Chuck Kremer a club filled with naked ladies and he wouldn’t bat an eye. But if the 68-year-old tourism king catches a glimpse of Teslin…

Show Chuck Kremer a club filled with naked ladies and he wouldn’t bat an eye.

But if the 68-year-old tourism king catches a glimpse of Teslin Lake … well, that’s another matter entirely.

It’s late evening, and the Mukluk Annie’s Salmon Bake owner has just returned from his nightly houseboat tour.

A bag of fresh, homemade buns lie at his feet.

“These are my wife’s buns,” joked Kremer.

“I tell the tourists not to eat them, I tell them they’re too old,” he said, ripping off a soft chunk of bun and placing it in his mouth.

The buns are for the gulls that follow the houseboat on Kremer’s nightly jaunts. “They think I’m their dad,” he said.

Better-known as Mukluk Chuck, Kremer and his wife Annie came to the Yukon on their honeymoon 39 years ago.

They fell in love with the territory, but couldn’t stay.

“Back then I was running a night club in St. Paul, (Minnesota) — it had live, nude dancing,” said Kremer.

“I was making money hand over fist, but I was going straight to hell.”

Then Kremer was saved.

“I went to visit my brother, who was a dope addict, and he was all cleaned up,” said Kremer.

“I asked him what happened, and he said he turned his life over to Jesus Christ, and was praying for me.”

Within two months, Kremer turned his life around, applied to be a Canadian citizen, and moved north.

“We came up here with two young kids and moved to a place on the Timberline Road, near Teslin,” he said.

A few years later, they had the third child, then the fourth, the fifth, the sixth and the seventh.

“We were in this two-bedroom log cabin, with the new baby in with us and the other six in bunk beds,” said Kremer.

“And it was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.

“My kids still all live within 100 miles of me.”

Outside Mukluk Annie’s a lineup snakes into the parking lot.

A tour bus idles beside the squat, colourful gift-shop and restaurant, while nesting swallows swoop overhead.

Several log cabins and an old blue school bus sit between the main building and the lake.

“Before I built this place, I used to pile all my kids on that bus and Annie and I would drive all over Alaska in the summer selling souvenirs,” said Kremer.

“Now I keep my tools in it.”

Back then, local souvenirs were hard to come by, he said.

They all came from Taiwan and Japan.

“Annie’s an artist, and she was always drawing something, so we got into the souvenir business,” said Kremer.

“And I was listening to the radio and got the idea for her pen name — Mukluk Annie.

“When they hear it, everybody thinks she’s this nice, native girl, but she’s actually this white woman from Minnesota.”

Using caribou antlers, Kremer would make little buttons, attach them to decorative spoons and Annie would paint them.

“We travelled in the school bus selling spoons for years,” said Kremer.

“Then we came to a fork in the road. We could either keep selling spoons, or buy a sawmill.”

He opted for the latter. And Mukluk Annie’s began to take shape, one log at a time.

It began as a doughnut shop that sold souvenirs.

“Annie, she can make the best doughnuts too, that girl,” said Kremer.

Then they added a kitchen and eventually a dining room.

During one of his Alaska visits, Kremer found an old stainless steel exhaust hood that was used in a pipeline kitchen.

“Those things are about $15,000 new, but I got it for $100,” he said.

“And I figured I could use it to catch the smoke from an indoor barbecue.”

People told him it would never work, that he’d smoke out the restaurant.

They were wrong.

Today, salmon steaks fill the indoor wood-burning barbeque and Mukluk Annie’s is packed with tourists.

“Inspectors come and look at it,” said Kremer.

“And they’ve never seen anything like it — but they all say it looks OK.”

Beside the barbecue sit bowls of potato and pasta salad, a crock-pot of baked beans and Annie’s homemade buns.

“When we started off, the only thing that wasn’t free was the food,” said Kremer.

“The camping, the RV wash, water, the boat ride, even dumping was free.”

But over the years, as costs rose, Kremer decided to charge $10 for camping.

“And the minute I started charging for camping, it was like I had the plague,” he said.

“The finances coming in where terrible, so I said to my dear wife, ‘We’re going to give free camping again.’

“And we make good money now.”

But life is not all sunset houseboat rides for Kremer.

He’s up every morning at four cutting fish while Annie does the baking.

And, after tying up the houseboat and talking with travellers, Kremer often doesn’t get to bed till at least 11 p.m.

“Tourists can wear you out,” he said.

But Kremer never gets sick of them.

“They’ve been my bread and butter — I love them,” he said.

“Sometimes you get someone who’s a little hard to love, but you love them anyway.”

One tourist, when Kremer asked her if she was enjoying her trip, complained that all she could see were trees.

“So, I asked her if she wanted us to cut them all down for her,” said Kremer with a laugh.

Over the years, Mukluk Annie’s has changed, the dining room has expanded, RVs are more popular, so, fewer people stay in the little log cabins by the lake, and Kremer and Annie moved to a bigger house.

“We tore the old one down and burnt it in the barbecue,” said Kremer.

But some things have also stayed the same.

Annie’s paintings and souvenirs still fill the walls of the restaurant and shop, the salmon’s hand-cut, the buns are soft and fresh and “Jesus is Lord” still hangs above the entrance.

“I’m a Jesus fanatic,” said Kremer.

“I put Jesus is Lord on all our menus, I didn’t do it to attract Christians, but I do attract them.”

Kremer walks to the front of the houseboat.

“I always have a lifeguard onboard,” he said with a smile, pointing toward a Jesus placard above the sliding glass door.

A stiff, black dog follows Kremer down the ramp onto the beach.

He checks the lines and looks out at the lake.

“This might be our last summer open,” he said.

“It’s time for Annie and me to retire.

“But we’ll stay in Teslin for life and death, it’s so peaceful.”

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