BUSINESS BEAT: Willie’s celebrating historic milestone on Lower Johnson

125-year-old Johnson Street building the original home of B.C.'s first commercial baker

Doug King

The average customer coming in for the early bird breakfast special or fresh-baked goods may not pay much heed to the date stamp high atop the facade of Willie’s Bakery and Café.

For owner-operator Doug King, however, the 1887 mark on the Lower Johnson building is a sign of a link to the past he actively tries to maintain. From the antique wooden floors, old-style counters and interior brickwork, to the historic photos and early morning smell of fresh baked goods, visitors need not stretch their imagination to picture original baker Louis Wille pulling hot loaves out of a brick oven.

“It’s definitely one of our bragging rights,” King says of the building that houses his eatery as well as Isabella’s Guest Suites upstairs. “It’s got this long and wonderful history.”

When German immigrant Louis Wille and his wife, Augusta, expanded their bakery operation from New Westminster to Victoria in 1887 it began a decades-long family tradition that lasted until 1976.

A return to part of that tradition came in 1999, when the space was reopened as Willie’s Bakery – the spelling change honoured the son of new owners, Mike and Shellie Gudgeon.

While locals know Willie’s today as a place to find numerous eggs Benedict options and all-day breakfast, King, who took over in 2005, admits the connection to the building’s original use is a good drawing card for visitors to the city.

“Tourists are the topping on the dessert for us,” he says.

That tourist market is tapped in other ways by King’s company. Beside the guest suites upstairs, in the former longtime home of Louis and Augusta Wille, they also operate the café in the Royal B.C. Museum, and the diner car snack bar outside the museum in summer.

– Willie’s Bakery and Café, 537 Johnson St., 250-381-8414, williesbakery.com.

Slegg Realty expands in up-Island markets

A recent move by Coldwell Banker real estate offices in Nanaimo, Parksville and Courtenay to join forces with Greater Victoria-based Slegg Realty gives the company 48 representatives on Vancouver Island. That makes Slegg Realty, an offshoot of the lumber and hardware business built up by Ron and Steve Slegg, one of B.C.’s largest and fastest-growing real estate brokerages.

Victoria operations net tourism awards

Tourism Victoria and Maple Leaf Adventures earned national recognition last week when the 2012 Canadian Tourism Awards were handed out in Gatineau, Que. Tourism Victoria won the Social Media Initiative Award for its Escape Your Everyday campaign, aimed at potential visitors from Vancouver and Seattle. It included a Facebook contest, billboard ads, flash mobs and other media. Maple Leaf, which runs tours to Haida Gwa’ii and the B.C. North Coast on its traditional schooner vessel, won the Sustainable Tourism Award.

Local cruise specialists recognized by Expedia

Last week was a good one for the Victoria office of Expedia CruiseShipCentres. At the company’s national conference in Vancouver, consultants from the 911 Yates St. location were recognized for achieving new levels of sales under its Presidents Circle Awards program. Earning platinum status were Sandy Perry and Lexia Anklovitch; achieving gold status were Julie Charlton, Barry Cole and Margaret Statham, and Paul Barton, Marni Horner, Sheila Kaul, Ute McLean and Pamela MacDonald achieved silver. The team also won the top sales award from Holland America Cruise Lines.

Business association launches updated website

A categorized, searchable list of businesses, a full events listing, program descriptions and a blog are among the features of the Downtown Victoria Business Association‘s redesigned website (downtownvictoria.ca). Rebuilt by Victoria company Trapeze Communications, the aim of the mobile-friendly site is to better provide fast and easily accessible information on downtown goods and services to both locals and visitors.

Names around town in the business news

The team of Eric Brabander, Annette Wagers, Natalia Simo and John Turner from Camosun College won the annual Certified Management Accountants Society of B.C. business case competition for their detailed financial analysis of a small antiques store. They won a $2,500 shared scholarship … Paul Paterson and his Go Time Motorsports are going great guns with Gio products. They’ve been selling the Chinese-made electric scooters and ATVs and other motorcycle products from their location on Goldstream Avenue since the summer.

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