Bernadette’s Take on
André and George Schwarz, Lake Louise, Alberta
No more Rookies in the Rockies
George (left) and André Schwarz (right) have good reason to laugh. They have just read the text that I have posted here. They celebrate having survived my interview. (All photos courtesy Post Hotel, Lake Louise)
It is a top secret but I will let you in on it. Between André and George Schwarz, two brothers from Switzerland, there is an invisible rope attached. Even if they wanted to, they could not separate.
Of course, André Schwarz (67), the co-owner of the famous Post Hotel in Lake Louise, will tell you that I just made this up. His word probably weighs more than mine because three weeks ago, the Post Hotel got an award as “The best Resort in Canada” by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Worldwide, the hotel is number 17.
I have to admit, I have only circumstantial evidence for my claim with the invisible rope. But I will tell you how I have reached my conclusion.
You see, André came to Canada in the fall of 1969. He wanted to be a ski instructor for one year in Lake Louise. He came for another winter and another one. In the third winter, he decided to stay. In the fourth winter, he ran the ski school in Lake Louise.
I can tell you: The Schwarz brothers don’t waste any time fiddling around. The Ski Canada Magazine wrote that André Schwarz “totally modernized Canadian skiing”.
I don’t know what André exactly did but obviously, thanks to him, a manual was published whose technical principles “form the foundation of Canadian ski technique and teaching methodology to this day”. Wow! This guy is a pioneer!
When André decided to stay in Alberta, brother George, five years younger than André, turned up. George started working at a restaurant in Banff (André recommended his brother to the owner). Two months later, George bought the restaurant with the help of his father and a bank loan.
André helped out in the restaurant that the brothers called “Ticino”, fitting its Swiss Italian cuisine. But he still ran the ski school in Lake Louise beside it. “We had to learn by doing”, André says. “But the restaurant in Banff became very successful.”
Imagine, in Switzerland, George had been a chemical lab technician by trade and André had graduated from commercial school.
In 1978, George sold the restaurant in Banff to a friend and neighbour from Switzerland, Erwin Widmer. The Widmer family still owns it to this day.
George joined André in another business venture (you see, I told you about the invisible rope!). From a wealthy Englishman, Sir Norman Watson, they acquired a very neglected ski lodge with an adjoining motel in Lake Louise.
The English guy was a Switzerland aficionado and he spent lots of time in the Swiss alps (maybe the Rocky Moutains were not push enough for him). So Sir Watson thought, these two Swiss brothers would be a good match for his lodge in the Rockies.
Oh, he was sooo right! André whose second wife is Canadian, can tell you that himself.
I had to place a UPC (Urgent Phone Call) to André Schwarz:
André, why on earth would George and you buy a very rustic lodge with 14 small rooms of which only four had a private bath and the ladies and men`s were in the corridor?
Because we saw the potential of it and we had plans to renovate and expand it. Today the Post Hotel has 94 rooms. We tore down the motel and built a luxury hotel and connected the lodge to the hotel.
Is there something Swiss about the Post Hotel?
(laughs) Züri Gschnätzlets (veal ragout in cream sauce) and Birchermüesli (musli with fruit) for breakfast.
I’m kidding here. All our rooms have wooden ceilings, and the dining room has a “mountain feeling”. The entire hotel has a rustic understated elegance.
Do Canadians recognise the Swiss in you?
I hope not! (laughs again) Actually, my very first language was Italian because as a small child, my Northern Italian grandparents on my mother`s side looked after me during daytime.
But I think, my education and my training are Swiss – and being more diligent than most people.
So I cannot find anything Swiss in your hotel?
I have some Swiss wine in our wine cellar. We actually own one of the largest wine cellars in Canada – 25000 bottles and 2200 different labels. The “Wine and Spectator Magazine” has given us the highest award for our wines for the last 12 years.
Is your sommelier Swiss?
No, she is American and has worked for us for five years. But we do have a lot of Swiss staff, cooks, housekeeping supervisors, chef de cuisine. Our pastry chef is Swiss. He makes Swiss Wähe (flat fruit tart) and Birebrot (sweet bread with air-dried pears). In the hospitality industry, training in Switzerland is better.
And where does the Canadian factor come in?
Canadians are very helpful and friendly. In Switzerland everything works. Especially the Swiss-German minds love systems and they make systems work. But hospitality is more than about systems, it is about people.
Talking about people: Is it easy to work so closely with your brother?
I would say: The result is great, the process is hell! (laughs)
It is sometimes very hard because we are different. But we complement each other. He is the detail man, I am the one who talks more easily with guests. He does food and beverage, I am more versatile with maintenance, mechanical things and administration.
Looking back, would you do anything differently?
No, I am not regretting anything. It has been a great life and a great success. But the work hours are long. Still today, after 35 years, we both work six days a week, from 8 in the morning to almost 10 at night. It becomes a passion. The hospitality industry is very entertaining.
Are you still skiing?
Yes, but I can’t get to ski as much as I would like to. Our main season in Lake Louise is the summer, by the way.
Where does a hotel owner who lives in one of the most beautiful places in Canada go on holiday?
Lately, I have gone to the Caribbean for sailing.
With your brother?
Are you kidding? – No!
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