Whistler Blackcomb (WB) is set to become one of the first resorts in North America to feature a vegan on-mountain restaurant.
On Dec. 13 Raven’s Nest, located at the bottom of Big Red Express on Whistler Mountain, will open its doors for the season with an entirely new plant-based menu. The news has already caught the attention of major publications like Bon Appetit magazine. “It shows me that my thought pattern two, three, four years ago was right and that it’s just a matter of time until the masses catch onto it,” said Wolfgang Sterr, executive chef at Whistler Blackcomb, who is also a vegetarian.
“I think there needs to be a small change sometimes to make a big impact — a positive ripple effective throughout society.”
Sterr is in charge of the menu — which is filled with everything from a Korean “beef” kim chi sandwich to a “chicken” pita pocket with apple walnut slaw — while Kristine Leise, who has been managing the WB-owned Starbucks in Creekside for several years, will operate and supervise the restaurant.
Sterr and Leise separately had the idea for an on-mountain vegan or vegetarian establishment for the last several years. But it wasn’t until Leise pitched the idea to her boss during a performance review a few months ago that the company got on board. Raven’s Nest is tucked away compared to most of the venues on the mountains, making it less busy than other locations. As a result, it’s the perfect spot for testing new ideas that could potentially attract a particular demographic, the pair said. (Although Sterr emphasized that meat eaters and herbivores alike will enjoy the food.)
“It went like a snowball,” Leise said. “I had a meeting with Sean Richard (general manager of alpine restaurants). He’s really big on environmental stuff. We found a common ground — it went from adding a few vegan items to changing the whole menu and leaving a few items that are non-vegan for transitioning.”
From there Sterr developed the menu and the pair had a nerve-wracking meeting testing out the food with the WB leadership team. “After two minutes of munching on food in silence they looked up and said, ‘I think we should give it a go,’” Leise said. “I went out of the office and jumped up and down.”
For Sterr, the restaurant has been a chance to expand on the work he’s been doing at WB since joining the team. “Over the last couple of years I was able to slowly manipulate (menus) so that there’s more vegan and vegetarian choices on the menu boards,” he said. “That’s a huge step in the right direction, especially when you look at it from an environmental perspective. We’re trying to be a socially responsible and environmentally responsible company. It feeds directly into my core values of being respectful to the planet. People from all over the world can say great things are happening here.”
For Leise, who moved to Whistler from Latvia before the Olympics and has been a passionate vegan for the last several years, the restaurant (which will serve two meat items, but they will remain off the menu and available only by request) is a dream come true. “The idea of starting a vegan restaurant — I felt I had to do it Whistler,” she said. “I became vegan here. I became passionate about the environment here. It was the people of Whistler that allowed me to change. I found a way of living that’s combined nature with me.”