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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Record-setting high jumper Emma de Boer, who lives in Cloverdale and attends Holy Cross Regional High School in Fleetwood, will train and study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) next fall. (submitted photo)
Surrey jumper on a high after recruitment by UPenn track team

High jumper Emma de Boer aims to leave Cloverdale for Philadelphia next fall

Surrey RCMP Gang Enforcement Team street check. (File photo)
Surrey RCMP gang enforcement team seizes five vehicles

This was over 13 days, as SGET continues to target gang activity in this city

File photo
Surrey to borrow $150 million for three major recreation projects

That’s for a sports complex in the city centre, a sports and ice complex in Cloverdale and a community centre in Newton

Tim Baillie, the “Supreme Commander” of Toque Tuesday events in Surrey, at Surrey Civic Plaza in 2018. (File photo: Bala Yogesh)
Ball hockey scrubbed, Surrey’s ‘Toque Tuesday’ turns to drive-thru collection to help homeless

‘Clean out your closets and stop by from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.,’ urges the event’s ‘Supreme Commander’

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
RCMP appeal for witnesses after hit-and-run leaves girl, 17, in critical condition

The Metro Vancouver teenager was found unconscious and critically injured after being hit: police

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Canadians divided over Keystone pipeline, despite U.S. president’s permit pullback

Two-thirds of Canadians think Biden’s decision was a “bad thing” for Alberta

Langley activist Dorscie Paterson celebrated her 108th birthday on Monday, Jan. 25 at the Cedar Hill long term care facility. Because of the pandemic, she remained inside, able to see, but not shake hands with visitors. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Celebrating a 108th birthday without physical contact

Pandemic required Langley woman to stay behind a window

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
5 big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

Most Read