Teri Hustins

Teri Hustins

Smoked-out Victoria businesses land on their feet

Fort Street shops rebound after fire forces them out

It was an otherwise unremarkable Monday morning when a kitchen fire broke out at A Taste of India restaurant at 768 Fort St., pouring smoke through the ceiling into two adjacent businesses.

The Nov. 18 fire forced Oscar & Libby’s owner Teri Hustins to scramble for an alternative storefront just as as the lucrative Christmas season approached.

“The same landlord happened to have an empty space across the street and he rolled us into this location within five days,” said Hustins from her new shop at 795 Fort St. “If I’d lost Christmas, that would have been 25 per cent of my business for the year.”

Vy Nguyen, whose family operates Pho Vy Vietnamese restaurant, said the fire could have been disastrous for their businesses, but a fortuitous arrangement with a nearby restaurant is keeping them afloat.

The owner of Saigon Harbour (1012 Blanshard St.) had already been planning to temporarily close the restaurant while visiting Vietnam.

When Pho Vy was forced to close, the vacant restaurant provided an ideal opportunity, Nguyen said.

“We’ve been pretty steady, and we’ve been getting more and more of our regular customers here,” she said. “We’ll be moving back to Fort Street within a few months, hopefully.”

Restoration work on the building is lagging as insurance companies continue their assessments, said landlord Jason Cheung, operations manager with Wing Lee Holdings.

“It was my intent to have this go a lot faster than it’s going,” he said.

He didn’t know whether the proprietor of A Taste of India was planning to return to the location, but said all of the affected businesses will be welcome to come back.

“They’ve been good tenants for us,” Cheung said. “That’s why with Teri, we were very quick to help her move across the street.”

The camaraderie amongst Fort Street businesses is what has most impressed Hustins, who also operates an Oscar & Libby’s in Market Square. She received food, coffee and plenty of customer support after pulling off a re-opening in her new space in just five days.

“The support was really overwhelming, in a great way,” she said. “It really created this sense of community amongst business owners, who all understand what it means to have this happen.”