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La Cara: A Tale of Tacos, Toddlers and Trials

Locally owned and operated restaurant at Downtown Main Street celebrates its first anniversary
Phil and Diana Chan, the dynamic duo behind La Cara, celebrate their restaurant’s one-year anniversary in Whitehorse. Photo courtesy Lacey McLoughlin Photography.

In the heart of Whitehorse, Yukon, where culinary options are often limited, La Cara emerges as a beacon of flavour, freshness and fun times – all at an affordable price.

Phil and Diana Chan, the dynamic duo behind La Cara, sit down with us to delve into the vision, challenges and evolution of La Cara. Buckle up as Phil and Diana spill the salsa on all the nitty gritty details of starting and building a business – while trekking the hardships of being new parents.

The culinary vision behind La Cara

Asked about their vision toward their culinary pursuit, Phil is quick to answer. “We chose burritos, tacos and bowls because they have a great combination of flavour and satisfaction,” he says, emphasizing that the food they serve does not come with preservatives or any additives, rendering it a healthy food selection for everyone.

Phil highlights that other alternative fast-food options in town are quick – but at the cost of unhealthy ingredients. The couple wanted to serve the hustle and bustle of employees amid Main Street with nutritious options.

A journey beyond personal connection

In the context of their connection with the cuisine itself, Phil and Diana don’t necessarily describe it as “personal,” but more of a tie between their experience as casual diners.

“We love going out to all the taco and Mexican restaurants in Vancouver and we enjoy trying out different ones as much as we can. It was also about bringing the fast-casual scene to Whitehorse, where you can get quality food quickly.”

The couple is proud of the satisfying meal they’re able to deliver with speed and quality, whether customers are ordering online or dining in.

Signature dishes and menu development

Asked about a signature dish, Phil highlights the carnitas tacos. “I would say our carnitas tacos. You know, it’s something that’s so simple and yet so delicious.”

Phil details their approach to ingredients and menu development: “Nearly everything we serve is made from scratch. When we order our ingredients, we order single-ingredient items, and then we work our magic, whether it’s cooking them, grilling them, or chopping them and blending them raw.”

Even when La Cara was barely a dream, the couple started by inviting friends over and making cocktails and cooking for them, testing their different homemade salsas, and simply experimenting and fine-tuning recipes until La Cara’s menu came to life.

La Cara’s restaurant front in downtown Main Street. It was a long process to transform La Cara from a Starbucks, but Phil and Diana Chan say the process and results have been incredibly rewarding. Photo courtesy La Cara.

Community support and the learning curve

Reflecting on their first year, Diana acknowledges the steep learning curve. “No doubt in the beginning, there was a strong learning curve and mistakes were made. And with customer feedback, we were able to pivot and truly improve.”

As a young couple both in their early 30s, the two embrace their new world as entrepreneurs with the help of those who surrounded them. Whenever they receive negative feedback, they learn to improve and adapt.

“We have an amazing team,” Diana says proudly. The couple notes they’d be nowhere close to where they are now without their superb staff.

Building La Cara: Struggles of a small business

Diana reflects on the challenges of turning a former Starbucks into La Cara. “Construction costs in 2022 were just astronomical.”

In their first year, while doing everything required to take a restaurant from concept to reality, Diana and Phil both had full-time jobs, a newborn to take care of, and a life in Vancouver they were still living in.

Phil, having previously lived in Whitehorse, and working in the Yukon for the past 10 years, saw the potential of the locale and leapt into relocating his whole family to the territory’s landscapes.

Despite the higher-than-expected costs, the couple emphasize it was incredibly rewarding when “things were finally coming to light – piece by piece.”

Looking to the future: What’s in store

As La Cara marks its first year, the couple share their excitement for the future with yet another newborn in tow. “We’re just excited to keep plugging away, keep exploring new options, seeing what the community responds well to and expanding on that,” Diana says.

For Diana, La Cara has simply been a third child to them. “When we were starting everything out, it was all brick, bones and bare. As things fell into place, it felt like we were raising La Cara to be our own.”

As 2024 approaches, the restaurant stands poised to continue its culinary adventure, leaving a lasting imprint on the gastronomic landscape of Whitehorse.

The couple says that La Cara isn’t just a restaurant; it’s a commitment to quality, community, and the joy of shared meals.

Follow La Cara on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date and visit their website for more information.