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'There is no money left in the bank': After 23 years, a North Shore diner bids a reluctant farewell

"After 2.5 years of COVID-19, my cancer surgery and mandatory closures because of the pandemic, there is no money left in the bank," says the restaurant's chef-owner.
In business since 1999, High Boat Cafe & Catering's chef-owner Urs Bleuler says the restaurant will close down by the end of April. The off-the-beaten-path greasy spoon is known for its hearty dishes, like classic diner breakfasts.

The last two years have been tough for Urs Bleuler. This Swiss-born chef and his wife, Tamy, have operated High Boat Café & Catering on the North Shore for over 20 years, but have been left with no choice but to shut down and sell the business.

Located in the Mosquito Creek Marina, the High Boat is a '60s-style diner that Bleuler has run since 1999 when the chef made the switch from fine dining (running the kitchen at Burnaby's posh Hart House) to this more laid back set-up. 

The modest nautical-themed diner is known for its no-frills classic fare, including hearty breakfasts and approachable dishes like fish and chips.

"This place is adorable, kitschy and off the beaten track," raved one Yelper in 2015, adding: "I love everything about it.

Earlier this year, the Bleulers learned their landlords - the Squamish Nation - would no longer be able to supply the business with adequate electrical power. 

Inside the High Boat Cafe & Catering restaurant on Mosquito Creek in North Vancouver, March 2020. The diner will close down by the end of April 2022, following a dispute with the landlord about the power supply to the business. High Boat Cafe & Catering / Facebook

"We have been experiencing power problems over the last 11 years since we’ve been in this location," Bleuler described Feb. 1 on the High Boat's Facebook page.

"Power to the café, supplied by Squamish Nations, was never installed properly, so therefore every once in a while we’ve had issues, especially with King tides, a lot of snow and slush and multiple days of heavy rain. We in fact have lost several days because of that problem," continues the restaurant.

"In order for us to continue, the band as in Squamish Nation, our landlords, are not willing to provide us with sufficient electrical."

What followed was a few weeks of back-and-forth, all of which put the Bleulers in a tough spot, exacerbated by the pandemic years of financial and personal struggle.

"The last two-and-a-half years have been extremely difficult because of COVID, zero catering, mandatory closures and many mandates," explains Bleuler in an email to Glacier Media. "We were hoping for a rebound year, unfortunately, this will not happen now."

Sadly, the Bleulers are now faced with selling off the business and closing down the catering operation, too, as they will no longer have a viable kitchen. 

The High Boat will remain open through the end of April. 

'There is no money left in the bank'

"After more conversation with [the] Squamish Nation Band, we [were] given an extension for another month until the end of April," explains Bleuler. "This will allow us to have more time to deal with the huge task to sell the building and restaurant, (basically giving it away), and have it moved to a new location by the new owner, or possibly have it demolished."

Getting rid of the building entirely would prove costly, notes Bleuler. "After 2.5 years of COVID-19, my cancer surgery and mandatory closures because of the pandemic, there is no money left in the bank," adds the chef-owner. 

The Bleulers are hopeful the last few weeks will mark a "semi-decent" end-of-run for the veteran restaurant, and loyal customers have a bit more time to come in for a final meal. "

"We would like to say thank you to all my very loyal regulars over the years, it’s been a great journey!" says Bleuler.

The High Boat Cafe is at 415 West Esplanade in North Vancouver.