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)


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.

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

Mike LeSage. (submitted photo)
LeSage to head Community Policing Bureau of new Surrey police department

Second of three Deputy Chief Constables to be hired by fledgling force

Through his lens, Doug Cook captured this picture of the Fraser River, Mount Baker, an eagle, and even the Golden Ears Bridge on a sunny fall afternoon. The photo was taken from the wooden walkway leading down to the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport float plane dock. (Contributed photo)
Friends of Semiahmoo Bay to host virtual World Wetland Day event

Webinar event to feature six speakers, to be held Feb. 2

White Rock Evergreen Baptist Society had 46 COVID-19 cases as of Jan. 13, according to a recent report released by the province. (Peace Arch News photo)
White Rock care home’s COVID-19 cases jump 50 per cent in a week: report

Three White Rock/South Surrey care facilities among B.C. sites with active outbreaks

Surrey Council Chambers. (File photo)
Surrey city councillors complain not enough public input in committees

City has gone ‘exactly the opposite direction,’ Councillor Brenda Locke charges

One of the Choices Lottery grand prize packages includes a home located at 16730 19 Ave., Surrey. (Contributed photo)
Two South Surrey homes featured in Choices Lottery

Tickets on sale now for BC Children’s Hospital lottery

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

RCMP were called to the 5600 block of 201A Street just after midnight on Monday were they found a 27-year-old man in an underground parking garage who had sustained multiple shot wounds. (Lisa Farquharson/Langley Advance Times)
27-year-old taken to hospital after overnight targeted shooting in Langley

RCMP have not confirmed the incident is link to the Lower Mainland gang conflict

U.S. military units march in front of the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 in Washington, as they rehearse for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, which will be held at the Capitol on Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden aims for unifying speech at daunting moment for U.S.

President Donald Trump won’t be there to hear it

Williams Lake physician Dr. Ivan Scrooby and medical graduate student Vionarica Gusti hold up the COSMIC Bubble Helmet. Both are part of the non-profit organization COSMIC Medical which has come together to develop devices for treating patients with COVID-19. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Group of B.C. doctors, engineers developing ‘bubble helmet’ for COVID-19 patients

The helmet could support several patients at once, says the group

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

Most Read