BANFF – The Widmer family’s rich legacy with Ticino Swiss-Italian Restaurant has come to an end after four decades.
Following 44 years in business, Ticino’s last day of service under the Widmer family name was on May 28 with the new owners taking over on June 1.
Erwin Widmer, who left his native Switzerland in the late 1960s, brought authentic European tradition and his love of fine food to the business.
While there have been many ups and downs, he said it has been an incredible privilege to share his Swiss roots and raise a family in Banff with his wife Lorraine Widmer-Carson and “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“Because we are in a landlord situation, and we don’t own the property the restaurant is in, it is not always easy and so we decided to sell it,” he said.
“All good things must come to an end, and I’m happy, I’m very happy. I wish good luck to the new owners and it’s nice to be on the retired side of the business, for sure.”
The restaurant is an institution in Banff, serving up fondues, a Swiss classic, and other fine dining favourites.
The Widmer family calculates Ticino has probably served eight fondues per day on average, eleven months a year, with each fondue for two containing 300 grams of cheese.
Over 44 years, that works out to more than 130,000 fondues that have been prepared in the Ticino kitchens and approximately 40 tons of authentic Swiss cheese has been grated, melted, served and savoured.
“But each fondue is for two people, so that means 260,000 customers who also have enjoyed thousands of litres of wine, stimulating conversations large and small,” said Widmer-Carson.
“Romance, adventure, good news and bad, Erwin’s style of hosting the world with his authentic brand of Swiss-Italian-Canadian hospitality has comforted thousands of people over the years.”
Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno, whose great aunt, Michelina DiManno, was the original Ticino chef and kitchen manager, said the restaurant has been a staple in the community for more than 40 years and will be missed.
“Ticino has been this mountain culture hub in Banff and they’ve been able to bring people from all over the world into their restaurant and they’ve made those people feel like it’s their second home,” she said.
“Of course, that’s because of the charm and hospitality of Erwin Widmer and it is going to be missed by Banffities.”
DiManno’s personal connection to the restaurant also comes with some sentimentality.
“I really enjoyed the stories that Lorraine told me about Michelina in the kitchen over the years,” she said.
“It brings about this personal nostalgia for family and food and the simple act of sitting at a table and sharing a meal.”
After skiing and travelling, including working as a guide for heli-ski legend Mike Wiegele, Erwin bought the business in July 1979.
He had worked as a waiter in the restaurant’s original location on Wolf Street – in the current Townhouse building – when it was a disco and Italian pizzeria – first at Tita’s in 1968, then at Felice’s. In 1974, the restaurant was named Ticino, when hotelier George Schwarz added his Swiss heritage to the Italian menu.
Ticino moved from Wolf Street to its current location in the High Country Inn in 1995.
In recent years, Erwin had taken a bit of a step back from the daily operations of the restaurant, with his son Matthew Erwin and more recently son-in-law and front of house manager Louis-Pierre Helie running the show.
“I stepped in just a couple days a week to cover the days off,” he said.
The restaurant will continue to run under the Ticino name through summer, but Erwin said there are plans for renovations for the High Country Inn in fall.
“Then they will change the name in December,” he said, noting they are not announcing who they sold the business to at this time.