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May 17 marked the return of Yellowknife’s oldest eatery.

Typically opening on the May long weekend, the Wildcat Cafe’s seasonal run usually closes in September. After a city-run bidding process, Jo-Ann Martin and Mark Elson of Bullocks Bistro and Jessie Collins will be serving it up at the historic restaurant.

The lead-up to the Wildcat Cafe opening was bustling: the building was steam-cleaned; the food delivery truck broke down the day before its soft-open; and the new managers split up the dining hall’s tables as a make-do office.

Manager Jessie Collins sits in the Wildcat Cafe in the lead-up to its Friday opening.
Nick Pearce / NNSL photo

“It’s your new Wildcat,” manager Jessie Collins said. “New staff, new menus, but old faces.”

Part of the cafe’s events are slated to include live jam sessions, a marketplace, potentially inviting radio stations to broadcast and weekly quizzes on local knowledge.

“People came here as kids,” she said, explaining one of her staff worked at the ice cream stand when she was young, and another’s first cooking and musical gigs were at the local landmark. Since it’s first run in 1937, the building has seen milestones like weddings and roughly three generations come and go.

“There’s so much history attached to this building,” said Collins. “It’s loved.”

The waterfront log cabin has to be approached carefully as a result, Collins said.

“You don’t want to offend anybody. You don’t want to change it so it’s unrecognizable. But you do have to keep it interesting,” she said.

There’s a clear local element this season. The menu features references to people and places from around the city, alongside some culinary experimentation. Seared tofu skewers will appear with bannock and beer from NWT brewing company. It will also offer vegan and gluten-free options.

Earlier-risers can sample an east coast brunch. A highlight is the fisherman’s brewis, a hard bread soaked in water and typically served with salt pork or cod.

“Painless, seamless and a bit of a culinary adventure for people that aren’t used to trying new things,” Collins said about the dining experience. “But a family place.”

On that front, she aims to revive the cafe’s ice cream stand and hopes locals will bring families for dinner, or linger with drinks on the deck and watch the sunset. There’s also the option to paddle-up or fly-in for dinner, she added.

This year’s management recruited the cafe’s servers from restaurants around the city, borrowing them for one or two nights every week this summer.

“It’s a small town. There’s a handful of fantastic servers,” she said explaining, this year’s hires are “the ones with character, the spark, locals or involved with the community.”

A tourist destination, this season’s cafe management hopes to make it a helpful guide for visitors and “be the knowledge in the city” for anyone interested in fishing, kayaking or paddling.

Each season’s management is selected through a city-run bidding process. Collins said that’s one of the reasons she wants to “bring it back for the locals too.”

“This is our Wildcat,” she said. “This is not just one person. This is the whole city and this city owns (it).”

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Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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