New Arviat eatery serves up warmth and tradition
"Why can’t we have an Inuit-run restaurant in the community, with country foods on the menu?"
The Alikut family in Arviat ran a bed and breakfast out of their home for 20 years before patriarch Guy Alikut finally gave up, realizing that guests were too few and far between.
When the family was considering a new business venture last year, Alikut looked at the empty dining area reserved for customers and thought about how to fill those empty chairs.
And in the end, the family decided to listen to the wisdom of their elders.
“We heard them saying ‘Why can’t we have an Inuit-run restaurant in the community, with country foods on the menu?’” he recalled.
And that’s what they’ve done. Alikut’s two grown daughters, Eva Alikut and Jeannie Issakiark, recently launched the restaurant out of the family home next to the Roman Catholic mission, in a house their grandfather built in 1927.
The Alikut sisters cooked up a giant pot of caribou stew for the restaurant’s opening day.
“And we thought it was only right to invite the elders,” Guy Alikut said. “And boy, they were there for three hours, and they wanted to stay.”
The Alikuts fed about 30 elders for free that day, and realized they were onto something. Every Monday since has been designated “elders’ day,” when 20 to 30 elders come by for warm bowls of caribou stew, served free of charge.
For Arviat’s younger residents, $7.50 will buy you a bowl of stew or another dish, along with fresh bannock or a roll. The sisters also make fresh pastries.
The restaurant runs as part of the family’s business, Arctic Survival, which also sells Inuit clothing and art.
The eatery may not offer the same menu as in Arviat’s two other restaurants — one at the local co-op hotel, the other a fast-food counter attached to the Northern store — but the family feels as if they’re offering something more affordable and culturally relevant.
“It’s the Inuit way of doing things,” Alikut said.
Every day except Sunday, Eva Alikut and her sister Jeannie open the restaurant at 3:30 p.m., offering beluga, seal, caribou, char — whatever country food they can get their hands on.
But that’s not easy this time of year, Eva admits, when there are fewer hunters going out and few animals to hunt.
Some days, they serve hamburgers and fresh cut fries, knowing spring will bring more local ingredients to their kitchen.
“We’ll continue to try and sell country food at low cost so our elders who are no longer able to hunt can still have access,” Eva Alikut said. “They are thanking us for doing this for them, and it’s good to see them socializing with their age group.”
Alikut knows that offering free food won’t pay her bills, though. She only decided to help launch the restaurant after many unsuccessful months of job hunting.
“There aren’t any jobs in Arviat, and I don’t want to be on income support,” said the former community liaison worker with the Kivalliq Inuit Association. “So it can’t hurt to try.”
So the Alikut sisters have asked local organizations for a letter of support so they can apply to the GN’s Department of Culture and Heritage for a grant to help to keep running elders’ days at the restaurant.
“For now, we’re encouraging our local residents to come for a bowl of soup, so we can keep doing this,” she said.
Arctic Survival’s kitchen is open Monday to Saturday from 3:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.