Annette and Bert Wytinck just couldn’t bear to see the old Icelandic church demolished. When the dilapidated Frikirkju chapel went up for tender, abandoned and run-down in 1996, they put in a bid and “signed the papers four days later.” They then moved the old building to their farm just south of Cypress River and started renovations. In 1997, Cafe Bru Bed and Breakfast opened for business.
The magnificent church, which is now a Manitoba historic site, operates as a versatile and busy business. Nestled amidst the picturesque Tiger Hills, Cafe Bru offers home-cooked meals to individual tourists and tour groups alike, hosts overnight travelers with unique accommodations and hosts numerous special occasion events like weddings, themed meals and music concerts.
“We had no vision at all,” Anette Wytinck laughed when asked about how Cafe Bru came to be. “[we] rescued the church from demolition…” “…and we’d been to a few seminars on agri- tourism, ” husband Bert chimed in. “[but] it just looked like a barn with nice windows. We had to gut it out and start all over.”
The couple credit their daughter, who has a diploma in hotel and restaurant management, with the way the building took shape. She convinced them to add a kitchen area when they renovated the church. And it turns out the kitchen has served as the heart of the operation ever since. All of the food served at the cafe is fresh, homemade and as much as possible, acquired locally.
“Agri-tourism supports local business” Annette explained confidently. “You’ve got to keep local stores going.” And a lot of the fruits they serve at the cafe couldn’t get any closer to home- they are grown right on the property. “We’ve got quite a big orchard,” she explained, “We grow our own raspberries, saskatoons, apples, cherries, rhubarb, grapes and chokecherries- oh, but those are wild.”
The couple pride themselves on serving real food. They avoid heavy seasoning because “we want you to taste the fresh ingredients we cook with.” and fresh it is. If you want to eat at Cafe Bru you have to book your table in advance because they don’t have food lying around just waiting to be tossed frozen into the microwave for drop-in guests. Everything served at the cafe is made from scratch. I called at nine thirty in the morning to book our table and by the time we arrived at twelve thirty Annette and Bert had a beautiful homemade vegetable soup and delightfully marinated chicken sandwiches waiting for us.
“The marinated chicken is one of our special dishes,” Annette explained. “We try to always be consistent with our food and the chicken is one item people ask for time and time again.” With a sly look, Annette assured me that she wouldn’t share her secret chicken marinade recipe. “Otherwise,” she said, “if people knew how to make this at home, they wouldn’t come here to eat it.”
I thought about the beautifully manicured property around the church with the gardens and large lawn big enough for weddings. I looked around at the beautiful church, every inch of which is charming, welcoming and friendly. I admired the two semi-retirees in front of me who carefully set the table- accommodating for my little ones, who took the time to answer my questions and who took such good care of us while we ate. “Oh, I’m pretty sure people would still come.” I assured her. “This place is a treasure.”