Brunch-goers at Ricky’s All Day Grill in Whitehorse got a nasty surprise on Sunday when an unpleasant substance — possibly bear spray or pepper spray — forced everyone to evacuate the restaurant.
Doug Rutherford had just ordered food with his wife when he noticed the people sitting at a table in one corner start to cough. Then the people beside them were coughing, too, and soon Rutherford and his wife were hit.
“Basically, it was just like ‘Let’s get out of here!’” he said.
Soon everyone had hightailed it out of the restaurant, which is attached to the Days Inn at the corner of Second Avenue and Fourth Avenue. Rutherford said he saw one woman “just about throwing up” outside.
But he’s frustrated by the lack of information he’s received from the restaurant or the hotel about the incident.
He and his wife were still congested on Monday morning, and he wants to know exactly what the substance was.
He said he called Ricky’s and the Days Inn Monday morning, but no one would give him clear information.
“There’s a whole bunch of avoiding here,” he said.
“Dear Days Inn: when a customer asks why the hotel restaurant had to be evacuated, try to be a little less surly about it,” he later tweeted.
Managers at the hotel and the restaurant don’t seem to know exactly what happened.
Jane Bell, a manager at Ricky’s, said she was told by a hotel maintenance worker that a youth sprayed a can of bear spray in one of the entrances Sunday morning. But that worker wasn’t there during the incident, and Bell was unsure whether anyone actually saw it happen. Security camera footage of the restaurant and the kitchen didn’t reveal anything, she said.
Margo Salcedo, front office manager at the hotel, heard that restaurant staff believed the substance came in from outside, and assumed it was bear spray. She said a number of hunters are staying at the hotel, so one of them could have accidentally released bear spray outside.
But she later said restaurant staff actually told the hotel general manager that the substance was pepper spray, and it was sprayed inside the restaurant.
Bell said staff opened all the doors and kept the kitchen ventilation running to air out the restaurant after all the patrons left. When she arrived around 4 p.m., everything was back to normal.
“I don’t think really anybody’s at fault,” she said.
But Salcedo said restaurant staff should have done a better job responding to the incident. They should have called the hotel general manager right away, she said, so that the manager could decide whether or not to alert authorities. She said the restaurant did send an email to the general manager about the incident, but only after the fact. The police were not contacted.
She said staff also failed to fill out a mandatory incident report.
But she said the restaurant will respond better the next time something like this happens.
“Once it happens again, it will be written up.”
Andrew Robulack, spokesperson for the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board, said a safety officer is investigating the incident. He said the board is trying identify the substance and whether it represents an ongoing health risk.
“We’re not even trying to guess at this point what it might have been,” he said.
He said the investigation will likely take a week or two.
Contact Maura Forrest at