February 3, 2020
Outside Alestine’s restaurant in Inuvik, a chalkboard welcomes customers with cheeky sayings like “We do not have WIFI. Talk to each other, pretend its 1995”. A school bus, which has been transformed into a kitchen, sits adjacent to the restaurant itself – a compact log building with a rooftop patio - the only patio north of the Arctic Circle evidently. There was once a mounted caribou head on the stairwell and pastel-coloured pallet furniture adds to the quirky charm of the place.
It’s the kind of place where everyone knows your name; except they don’t because there’s a steady stream of tourists filling seats and ordering the fish tacos.
And that’s a great thing.
Pam and Brian McDonald are Alestine’s owners, operators, chef, baker, recipe-conjurer and occasional plant foragers.
“For business, tourism has been phenomenal,” Brian says. “This was the second year with the road to Tuk and it’s been crazy. We’ve seen more than a 50% increase in business. People stop at the restaurant on the way up the highway, then hit us again on the way back.”
The number of visitors to the NWT in general has been bouncing steadily upwards since 2014 and in 2018, overnight visitors to Beaufort Delta parks increased by 122%. That means lots more people filling restaurants, accommodations, shops and facilities.
“In the summer, tourists probably make up about 75-80% of our customers,” Pam explains. “They are absolutely necessary to making our business sustainable.” In the fall and winter, however, it’s mostly locals that fill the seats and enjoy bison burgers and fish tacos. It’s a symbiotic relationship: tourists are drawn to the community and locals get to enjoy a top-notch eatery.
The restaurant, which recently celebrated five years in business, was named for Brian’s mother. “I suggested naming it after her because Alestine managed to raise nine children - seven boys and two girls. Anyone who can do that should have a monument named after them!” Pam chuckles. Alestine’s presence is well reflected – from the restaurant location, which is on the property she raised her family on, to the menu which features whitefish, a staple she served her family.
The restaurant has impressive ratings on both Facebook (5/5) and TripAdvisor (4.5/5). It has also received the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor from 2017-2019. Reviews on the site come from tourists from coast to coast in Canada as well as further abroad – New Zealand, Indonesia and a cluster of US states including Texas, California and Tennessee.
As the positive reviews spread and more people show up on their doorstep – like the time 55 campers showed up at the same time – Pam and Brian are certain that they’ll have to hire more staff to keep up with demand.
No matter how busy they get, the pair guarantees that smiles and tea will always be free, echoing the motto on their business sign. “Unless you ask for something fancy like Earl Grey,” says Brian laughing. It’s bush tea (also called smoke tea) that they serve – brewed from Labrador that that Pam picks herself.
Whether you’re a traveller experiencing the marvels of the Beaufort Delta Region for the first time or you’re a born-and-raised local, the kettle is always on at Alestine’s.
We know that the tourism industry creates jobs and a healthier economy, but what about the not-so-obvious benefits? #ValueOfTourismNWT is a blog series highlighting the ways the tourism industry contributes to our communities that can often be overlooked.
From tourism facilities and services that locals can also enjoy, to cultural preservation and community wellness, there are countless ways the territory’s growing tourism industry benefits locals. Follow the blog series to learn more.