Sitting at the top of the Mossettes chairlift, on the border between French Avoriaz and Swiss Champéry – Les Crosets, Cookie Cafe is the highest and one of the most unique restaurants in les Portes du Soleil. Situated at 2277m altitude, this mountain restaurant offers not only delicious gourmet-pub-style food, but really good coffee, freshly pressed juices, locally sourced produce, and a relaxed atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re sitting in a cosy chalet for lunch, except with views over the entire Portes du Soleil!
We caught up with Richard and Julie Learwood, who took over Cookie Cafe following the tragic death of its previous owner, their good friend and business partner, David Jewell. David was killed by a shark while kite surfing in New Caledonia during the autumn of 2016, leaving Richard and Julie to decide whether to take over the restaurant or leave it to an uncertain fate. We’re very glad they decided to keep David’s legacy alive, and we were really excited to chat to Julie to find out all the things you’ve been dying to know about running a high-altitude restaurant.
How long have you owned Cookie Cafe?
We opened in December 2013, just one month after signing the lease, meaning everything had to be supplied by helicopter that first year to get open on day one of the season!
What does a typical day in the restaurant look like?
At 7am the overnight team are cooking the pastries and clearing the snow before the opening shift arrive on the 8am chairlift from Les Crosets, one hour before the lift opens to the public. The restaurant is busy almost immediately as people come in for coffee and breakfast before the lunch rush starts at 11.30am. Our kitchen is open until 3.30pm and the bar keeps going until 4.30pm. It’s then all hands on deck as the team need to be on the 5pm lift back to les Crosets.
How do you get all the drinks and ingredients up there?
We do a big delivery of soft drinks, kegs of beer and dry products at the end of October before the snow comes, as we can get a four-wheel-drive truck up there with about 10cm to spare on the very narrow goat track. After that everything goes up the Mossettes chair lift from the Swiss side. On a busy delivery day the lift is like a conveyor belt with one team loading down below and another taking it off at the top.
How do bad weather days affect the restaurant?
Unfortunately we lose 15 days on average to bad weather during the winter and many more partial days. Being the highest altitude restaurant in the Portes du Soleil has many benefits but sadly we get hit when when the weather comes in, while other restaurants lower down can stay open. It means that we are only open for around 100 days a winter, so only 750 hours in a season! That makes it a challenging location to operate in, but it’s worth it for all the good days.
What’s your favourite thing about running Cookie Café?
Seeing happy customers and the many returning guests we get. Cookie Cafe is very different in a sea of traditional alpine restaurants but that means it stands out. Not everyone loves what we do, but a lot of people do. If we can contribute to people having a great weekend, day or week of skiing and be part of their time in the mountains, then we are happy.
How do things at the restaurant differ between summer and winter?
Summer is just getting going, we have only done two seasons so far. The business is building but it’s nothing like the sunny days between Christmas and New Year. But we are happy with the progress and we’re working hard to develop the summer trade.
You can access Cookie Cafe via the Mossettes chairlift in Avoriaz, and also the Mossettes chairlift in Switzerland. As it’s technically located in Switzerland, prices are in Swiss francs but you won’t find it breaks the bank! Make sure you pop in on a sunny day, the views are incredible – and don’t forget to follow Cookie Cafe on Facebook and Instagram.