Co-owner Markus Hofmann first came across Rose Valley Lodge in South Gillies when he arrived in Thunder Bay from Switzerland to get married. After the wedding, the couple stayed at the lodge, then called the Unicorn Inn, and he fell in love with the place.
Hearing that the owners were thinking of selling, Hofmann, who had a background in hotel management, decided that this was what he wanted to do. “It was the right time and the right place for me,” he says.
He bought the property and renamed it the Rose Valley Lodge and Restaurant in 1998.
His marriage didn’t last very long, and he met Deborah Poole-Hofmann shortly after. She was a graphic designer working for the North of Superior Bed and Breakfast Association (which the Rose Valley Lodge was a member of,) and they met through work. At the time, she wasn’t looking for a relationship or a move to a rural bed and breakfast, but she was eventually persuaded and joined Markus at Rose Valley Lodge 20 years ago, becoming co-owner of the business.
“We’re really lucky,” Deborah says.
“It’s paradise,” Markus says.
The lodge has two private cabins, and is in the process of building two more. A stay at the cabin comes with a five-course dinner and breakfast, all cooked by Markus. (When pandemic restrictions ease up, they will start welcoming dinner-only guests again.)
The menu is large and varied, but the first guest to make a reservation for the night gets to choose the entree, and the same meal is served to all the guests. This ensures that all the ingredients are perfectly fresh and the food is cooked fresh for everyone. Markus does all the shopping himself, procuring local produce when in season. “We’re small enough to be able to do that. He personally handpicks everything,” Deborah explains.
The cuisine is European, showing Markus’ Swiss roots. “It has to be simple, and it has to be good,” he states. He doesn’t go for artful presentations or molecular gastronomy, preferring a classic plate of “meat, starch and vegetables,” he explains.
The five-course dinner typically takes two to three hours. “You relax, slow down, you start eating, you enjoy. We’re not a crowded space. Out here you talk to each other,” Markus says. Even those addicted to their phones put them down, since the lodge is out of cell coverage.
“Our slogan is, ‘Revive your taste buds and rejuvenate your soul,’” Deborah says.
For some chefs, the recipes for their signature dishes are a closely guarded secret, but Markus is surprisingly open, revealing some of his most popular items on their website. “Nothing is a secret,” the chef says. “We don’t invent food. It’s just a matter of how you cook it.”
“We believe in sharing the idea of having really good food,” Deborah adds. With good food, she believes, people will spend more time together at the table and have more conversations.
The couple look forward to finishing their two new cabins and welcoming more people to their restaurant and lodge. “There’s very high demand,” Markus says. “People need a getaway, and you don’t have to travel two, three hours for that. That’s what we offer. This is what we love to do.”