Editor's note: This story has been amended from a previous version to correct the transfer of ownership of the Alphorn to Mark Houston and Bill Boismier.
After over three decades, ownership of the Alphorn Restaurant is officially changing hands.
Located on Highway 26 between Collingwood and The Blue Mountains, the small Swiss restaurant has been owned by Mark Houston and Bill Boismier since 2007.
They recently announced the restaurant was sold with the new owner taking over in May.
“This is an opportunity for the Alphorn to continue,” said Houston. “A way to keep it going, even if it isn’t us.”
The restaurant was founded in 1977 by Swiss immigrant, Jean Pierre Zingg. At the time, there weren’t many restaurants in the area, and the Alphorn quickly became a watering hole for locals and ski tourists alike.
Houston and Boismier both worked in the restaurant prior to assuming ownership — Houston as a server and Boismier in the kitchen — and worked their way up to run the front of house and back of house operations, respectively. They ran the restaurant from 1997 to 2007 when they became the official owners.
“It was more evolutionary than revolutionary,” laughed Houston. “We had both been here for so long that it seemed silly not to [own it].”
The atmosphere of the Alphorn mimics that of a Swiss family restaurant, with wooden tables, stucco walls and an extensive collection of ski paraphernalia, including bibs from famous racers, old wooden skis, and more – all paying homage to Swiss culture. Houston added that the establishment still looks “incredibly similar” to when it first opened its doors all those years ago.
“Nothing much has come down…” he said. “More has gone up. A lot of our customers have brought stuff in.”
The menu hasn’t really changed, either.
Made famous by its Wiener schnitzel, the Alphorn is still using the same recipe it has since day one. The restaurant is also known for its cheese and beef fondue and traditional Swiss appetizers like raclette, Büendnerfleisch, and hearts-of-palm salad.
The restaurant has also become known for displaying jokes, usually poking fun at Houston’s mother-in-law.
“This place has really thrived on doing exactly as we’ve done it, even when maybe that isn’t right,” laughed Houston.
The notorious mother-in-law, it turns out, is an actual person — one who is completely unaware of her minor celebrity status in the area.
“Honestly, if I don’t put something about my mother-in-law up there for a long time, someone will stop me and ask if she is okay,” Houston said.
It's a testament to the loyalty of the Alphorn customer base.
Houston said he has been serving some families for so long, their kids are now bringing in their kids.
“The people, they have been coming here forever you know,” said Houston. “That will be the thing I miss the most. The people, and the family celebrations that have happened. You talk to someone and realize they have had 32 of 34 birthdays here.”
This past year has been challenging for all, with the restaurant and hospitality industry hit especially hard. Houston and Boismier adapted as they could, and were happy to welcome back customers for a few scattered months — even though they weren’t able to perform several of their traditions due to restrictions, including ringing the bell and the Alphorn’s famed birthday song.
“We wouldn't have survived as long as we did without the support of our families, our incredible customers, and the customers who have become family,” Houston said. “We will hold these memories in our hearts forever.”
When the restaurant is in full swing, Houston added, “you literally have to see it to believe it.”
Saturday, Apr. 18 marked the last day the Alphorn offered takeout under the old ownership, and they completely sold out of schnitzel. The restaurant is now closed for a “spring break” of sorts as it transitions over to the new owner.
“The Alphorn holds so many memories and traditions for so many people, especially for ourselves and our families,” said Houston. “We wish the new owner all the best, and hopefully next winter we will all be drinking apple liquor around the bar together.”
The restaurant has been purchased by John Garbe, local restaurateur and president of Aragon Restaurants — and a personal life-long fan of the Alphorn.
“We have been fans of the Alphorn for decades! It has always been a place where friends and family meet to create lifelong memories,” Garbe said. “Bill and Mark have done an amazing job and we hope that we can fill the very large shoes they are leaving behind!”
More details about the future of the establishment will be announced in the coming weeks, but as Garbe puts it, “The Alphorn will always be The Alphorn.”
“We look forward to welcoming everyone back to ring that bell,” he added.