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City invites bids to operate Wildcat Café this summer

The City of Yellowknife is inviting bids to operate the historic Wildcat Café for the 2021 summer season. NNSL photo

The Wildcat Café might make a comeback this summer after Covid-19 cancelled its 2020 season.

Requests for proposals (RFP) for the operation of the eatery, a designated heritage site, are posted on the City of Yellowknife's bids and tenders portal and will close on April 21 at 3 p.m.

The operating period runs from the May long weekend (May 22 to 24) to the Labour Day long weekend. (Sept. 4 to 6).

The Old Town café has been opened seasonally for several years under contracts with the city, which owns the building and property.

The location originally opened in 1937 and was a “haunt for miners, bush pilots and Indigenous trappers and their dog teams in the early years,” according to the city's RFP document.

The non-profit Old Stope Association stepped up in 1978 to refurbish the aging building that had fallen into disrepair.

In 1979 it reopened for seasonal operation under a lease relationship with the city.

Restaurateurs too busy for 2021 contract

Bullock's Bistro owners Jo-Ann Martin and Mark Elson had the contract to run the Wildcat in 2019, the last time it was open for customers.

Under the two-year term, the pair would have run the Wildcat in 2020 as well but the municipality didn't open the café because of the pandemic.

The city offered to extend the contract into 2021. But after some consideration, Martin and Elson decided to opt out.

“Somebody could possibly do it by themselves,” Martin said. “But for the way we want to run it, it's not necessarily a good time with (our) new bottling plant and other things. Running the bistro is pretty much all we can do now. Good luck to someone who can make a go of it this summer but it won't be us.”

'Exciting and historic café'

Martin said their summer of operating the café was exciting, although it came with a high learning curve.

She recalled the contract stipulating the menu be of a bistro or café style, and that food items be similar to those contained in the original menu when the café opened.

“It was a menu for 1940. There were certain things on the menu, I thought 'I guess that was a big deal back in the day.' (But) nobody would drink prune juice (today),” she said with a laugh. “(Still) you could be as creative as you wanted, within reason.”

When they took on the contract in 2019, Martin and Elson had hoped to earn profit in the second year, since the seasonal nature of the café meant they would be lucky to break even in the first year. But Martin said running the café for just one season was still a valuable experience.

“The Wildcat has so much history and people love it. The Old Town people and a lot of long-time residents really enjoy going to the Wildcat,” she said. “It's like a rite of passage almost. We had people come up to us who had been around decades ago offering ideas to us and remembering things that were special to them.”