Vancouver Island’s most remote restaurant pub is once again under Pat Gwynne’s management.
At 72, Gwynne is keen to sell The Scarlet Ibis, the Holberg eatery that she’s run for more than 40 years. The Ibis comes with an attached house, a third of an acre of waterfront in the small community near the start of the legendary North Coast Trail, and all the recipes — including her famous chicken wings.
In a normal year (i.e., when there isn’t an eight-month logging strike), the Ibis pulls in $380,000. She’d sell it all for much less. But so far, the buyers she’s courted have not been able to get financing together.
Most recently, a buyer tried to purchase the Ibis last October. Gwynne moved to her townhouse in Chilliwack, but after the deal fell through, Gwynne came back to Holberg in late February.
She fixed up the walls he had pulled out, and reopened the restaurant. Then COVID-19 hit.
The Ibis is now open for takeout, and business is booming with local loggers. Gwynne estimates weekly revenue of $5,000, mostly from loggers.
“Can I get a case of Lucky, please?” a customer hollers into the kitchen.
Gwynne is anxious for people to know she’d really like to sell.
“I could close it and sell it as a house, but it would be really nice to keep it going as the Scarlet Ibis.”
|Open view of the Holberg Inlet from The Scarlet Ibis’s dining room. (Zoë Ducklow)|
Forty years ago, she passed through Holberg with her late fisherman husband and stopped in for a pizza. The Ibis was hiring, and she needed a job.
“The next thing you know, you get rid of the boat, you buy the bar.”
Over the years, she’s had at least two bears come inside for a snack, more than a few whales and porpoises in the inlet, two actual ibis birds (not the scarlet variety) and no more than five bar fights.
“I’ve got a policy that if there’s something I can’t control, or I can’t look after, I close the bar.”
It only happened once where a customer got belligerent. Gwynne had enough and closed up. “And customers never liked that, so they patrol themselves. ‘You better behave yourself. It’s time for you to go home.’ ” The one time police were called, Gwynne was away on holiday.
She’s never had to cut a customer off, but she does strategically “forget” to fill someone’s drink order.
“They’ll come up and ask, hey did you forget my beer? And you say, oh sorry! I’ll get right on that. And then go right on forgetting,” she says, laughing. “I see this place as a home more than a business. Every night, I think of it like, I’m having a party, I wonder who’s going to come?”
|Pat Gwynne, owner of the Scarlet Ibis at 72. (Zoë Ducklow)|
It’s one of the most remote bars operating in B.C. Holberg has a population of 35 souls according to the 2016 census. Loggers and travellers are what make a business here viable. Accessible is only by a logging road from Port Hardy, and it’s a gateway to spectacular beaches and Cape Scott provincial park on the north west coast of Vancouver Island.
It’s almost inevitable to end up at The Scarlet Ibis if you’re passing through Holberg.
“I’m sorry I’m back, but it is nice to see old faces,” Gwynne says.
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|Pat Gwynne, still laughing after 40 years. (Zoë Ducklow)|
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