Whitehorse Daily Star

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NEW HORIZONS BECKON – Karina Lapointe, the owner of the Café balzam at the Takhini Hot Springs, says she’s at a point in her personal and professional life where she’s ready to explore other options. Photo courtesy Karina Lapointe

Café balzam to serve up final meal in the fall

2018 marks the final year that Café balzam will serve up crepes,

By Taylor Blewett on January 10, 2018

2018 marks the final year that Café balzam will serve up crepes, poutine and local, sustainable recipes to Yukoners and tourists alike at its Takhini Hot Springs location.

Owner and chef Karina Lapointe told the Star she’s aiming to close the restaurant as well as the catering company she runs out of its kitchen in early October, though a specific date hasn’t yet been set.

The hot springs property is evolving, she noted. That’s something she knew when she took over the restaurant and kitchen space and opened shop in December 2013.

As well, she’s at a point in her personal and professional life where she’s ready to explore other options.

Lapointe called the planned October closure “perfect timing.”

She has been leasing the Café balzam space from Takhini Hot Springs Ltd.

Company president Garry Umbrich said there isn’t a firm plan for the future of the space, as the building in which it’s housed will be closing in the next year or two as part of the property’s development.

The company’s website speaks of its “vision for a resort-spa community” at Takhini Hot Springs.

According to Umbrich, this vision includes a culinary facility on the property in a new building.

The website’s “start a business” section advertises to “an investor/restaurateur with the vision and energy to move forward with a fine dining venue that offers the required triple combination of food, atmosphere and service worthy of a world-class spa resort.

“Our current restaurant operator, Café balzam, is already showing how slow food and local sourcing is a successful strategy for attracting clientele to Takhini.

“When Café balzam closes in 2018 or 2019 to make way for these changes, the new restaurateur’s concept for a world class culinary facility can be fully scoped and ready to implement.”

Umbrich spoke to the restaurant vacuum on the property that’s likely to occur between the closure of Café balzam and the opening of the new culinary facility.

“It is a bit of a concern, and we’re going to see what we can come up with this summer,” he said. “We do have some time.”

Blake Rogers, executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, said tourism activities and dining are a “natural pairing.”

“Food is such a huge part of the tourism experience. Whenever you go anywhere, people need to eat.”

As well as providing a place for hot springs visitors to dine, Café balzam hosts community events, like this month’s Café des Voix musical showcase.

Andrew Umbrich is the owner and operator of Takhini Hot Pools – a separate company that leases the mineral pools from Takhini Hot Springs Ltd.

He told the Star via email that he doesn’t anticipate Café balzam’s closure will have a negative effect on his business, which continues to grow.

“We wish Café balzam all the best; their local slow food was of the highest quality, and it made them stand apart from other restaurants in Whitehorse,” he wrote.

Lapointe said there’s a part of her that’s sad the restaurant is closing.

“People really like what we do,” she said.

The restaurant’s rotating menu offers French cuisine with a homegrown twist.

“I’m not saying that I’m making Yukon food, but I’m making funky recipes with local ingredients.”

All of her meat is locally-sourced, as are many of her vegetables, Lapointe noted. She freezes ingredients and buys large animals to last her through the winter.

Her signature dish?

Everybody has their favourites, according to the chef. There’s a group that comes in to eat what they call the best poutine in the Whitehorse area.

“It’s tough when a popular establishment closes down,” Rogers noted.

Interest in “Yukon” food has been gaining traction in recent years, both among locals and visitors, he said.

“You’re seeing a lot more around the world in terms of interest in local food trends, people wanting to know where their food is from and having a connection to the place they visit and also to their own communities.

“When it comes to independent establishments promoting local food, we’re hopeful that this will be a continued practice.”

While Café balzam’s time at the hot springs may be coming to an end, there’s still a chance it could reopen elsewhere.

Lapointe said she’s looking to sell her concept. Details have yet to be worked out, she noted, but “if people are interested ... I’m open for talks.”

When Café balzam closes, Andrew Umbrich said the closest dining options to the Hot Springs will be Takhini Gas, at the opposite end of the Hot Springs Road, which sells hot and cold food, and Trails North Car & Truck Stop on the north edge of Porter Creek.

The Bean North Café is also located near the hot springs.

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