Fresgo Inn chef/owner Walter Wolff in the kitchen of the self-serve restaurant in Whalley. “I’ve got no plan for the retirement,” he says. “My customers always ask me, but as long as I feel good, healthy, I like to come here.” (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Fresgo Inn chef/owner Walter Wolff in the kitchen of the self-serve restaurant in Whalley. “I’ve got no plan for the retirement,” he says. “My customers always ask me, but as long as I feel good, healthy, I like to come here.” (Photo: Tom Zillich)

FOOD

VIDEO: Surrey’s Fresgo Inn chef keeps cooking comfort food as COVID cuts into customers

‘I’ve got no plan for the retirement,’ says 40-year Whalley pillar Walter Wolff

After nearly 40 years of cooking comfort food in the corner unit of a Surrey strip mall, Walter Wolff isn’t ready to slow down just yet.

Always adorned in a chef’s hat, the restaurateur said he works in the kitchen of his Fresgo Inn every day of the year, except Christmas.

“That’s my one day off,” Wolff said with a laugh as he toured the Now-Leader through the self-serve diner he began setting up in 1980, before Whalley became the heart of a large city.

“I liked Surrey, which was like a little city but it grows all the time,” Wolff recalled. “At the time I came here, I said it was small but I will grow with the city, and it worked out this way.”

Originally from Germany, Wolff moved to Montreal to be a chef during Expo 67 before a trip west to Edmonton. By 1970 he opened the first Fresgo Inn in Vancouver’s West End, but sold it eight years ago to focus on his Surrey location.

Off King George Boulevard, the deceptively large, 12,000-square-foot space is where he and his staff make and bake most things in-house – bread, buns, hamburger patties, cakes, Shepherd’s pie, cabbage rolls and more.

The mountainous mushroom burger is “legend,” Wolff agrees, but another dish is the top-seller at a joint where dieters probably find it difficult to order.

“The things we make, they are individual, you know,” Wolff explained. “Nobody makes cabbage rolls, or liver. Nobody sells that any more, but we do – it’s a big seller! My top seller is schnitzel. For 30 years I didn’t put it on (the menu), but now you can’t find it anywhere else. I sell Shepherd’s pie, I sell stew – comfort food, yeah, and people come in for a coffee or a big meal, we treat them the same.”

(Story continues below video)

Lately, COVID-19 has soured business at Fresgo Inn and other B.C. restaurants, due to provincial health orders that prevent groups of non-“bubble” people from gathering for a meal, according to Wolff.

His diner was closed for three months last spring, in the early days of the pandemic, and reopened in June.

“The business was not bad in the summer, but now with the new regulations it’s taken a dive down,” Wolff said on a late-November afternoon. “Right now you cannot associate with friends in a restaurant, only relatives. And you see, that cuts 50 per cent down. Most of the time you go to a restaurant with friends, to socialize.

“I had good times, but now is a little bit of a tough time, harder,” he added. “It’s like the high sea, you don’t know when the wave will hit.”

• RELATED STORY: Landmark Round Up Cafe reopens after lengthy closure caused by COVID

The cooking bug bit Wolff at age 14 when he began training in the culinary arts. His journey from Germany to Montreal in the ’60s opened a door to Canada that later involved work at the airport in Richmond, with Cara Operations, now known as Recipe Unlimited.

“I decided to go on my own, my own restaurant, and that was Fresgo,” he recalled, “but it was very small. I had only 12 chairs and three tables when I started out (in the West End).”

The restaurant name combined the words “fresh” and “go,” Wolff noted.

A North Vancouver resident, he’s OK with the daily drive to Whalley because it’s against traffic. “Just 30 minutes, nothing,” Wolff said.

His wife has passed, and his kids aren’t interested in the restaurant business.

“You have to be a stupid immigrant, then it’s good,” Wolff said with a laugh.

“It’s in your blood, the restaurant business,” he added. “If you don’t like it, you better go out of it right away, because there is no big money – only the people. You know, the people you talk to, they’re all like friends, most of them – 99 per cent.… I have lots of regulars, and they keep me alive, now in the bad time.”

Three of his employees were with him for close to 40 years, but all retired over the past couple of years.

“But I have good people, the staff,” he said. “Like anything else, 98 per cent of people are good, but there’s always that two per cent, you know.”

Asked about his own retirement plans, Wolff gets cagey.

“I’m getting older, up there too, and you can only do so much,” he said. “I turn 77 pretty soon, still frisky.

“I’ve got no plan for the retirement,” he added. “My customers always ask me, but as long as I feel good, healthy, I like to come here. If I get sick or something, then that’s another story. I like to do it, especially now that this is a new challenge. I couldn’t sell it – who’s gonna buy a restaurant?”

Wolff laughed some more.

“Til I’m dead I like to do this.”

• RELATED COLUMN: Zytaruk’s favourite eats in Surrey.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Tom on Twitter

FoodFood & DiningRestaurants

Just Posted

The leadership team at Johnston Heights Secondary is looking to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society through the Relay for Life, planned as an online and in-person event (following COVID-19 restrictions) for the week of June 1 to 7.
Pushed back a year, Surrey students well on their way to Relay for Life fundraising goal

Johnston Heights Leadership Team aims to raise $6,500 for Canadian Cancer Society

Surrey RCMP in the 4900-block of 148th Street, a short road just off of King George Boulevard, on May 15, 2021 after a male was allegedly assaulted with a “pipe-like” weapon that morning. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Surrey RCMP investigating after person reportedly injured with ‘pipe-like’ weapon

Police investigating incident in the 4900-block of 148th Street

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) (File Photo)
Police watchdog investigating after man found dead in South Surrey following a wellness check

IIO says officers ‘reportedly spoke to a man at the home before departing’

Surrey Fire Service battled a fire at an apartment building in Fleetwood late Friday night (May 14), near 84th Avenue and 160th Street. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
UPDATE: Surrey firefighters continue to work to put out ‘stubborn’ fire

Four-storey building located at 84th Avenue near 160th Street; crews on scene for nearly 12 hours

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Dr. Steve Beerman, of Nanaimo, shows off his Dr. David Bishop Gold Medal, awarded for distinguished medical service. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Former UFV Cascades wrestling coach Arjan Singh Bhullar is now the ONE heavyweight champion after defeating Brandon Vera via TKO in round two on Saturday in Singapore. (ONE Championship)
Former UFV wrestling coach wins MMA championship

Arjan Singh Bhullar captures ONE heavyweight title, first Indian origin fighter to achieve honour

Astra Zeneca vaccine waits for injection in a Feb. 3, 2021 file photo. A Langley man has become the second B.C. resident to suffer a blood clot following an injection. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
B.C. man required emergency surgery after AstraZeneca vaccination

Shaun Mulldoon suffered ‘massive blood clot’ after jab

Most Read