For a person who is about to close a major chapter in his life and in the fabric of Central Saanich, Cory Porter sounds remarkably accepting of what lies ahead.
“I wish it was different, but it’s not,” said Porter, 73, who is preparing to close Sassy’s Restaurant on Sunday (Aug.21) after 43 years operating the business off West Saanich Road near Victoria Butterfly Gardens.
The business is not closing because of its bottom line. In an industry as fleeting as meteorite showers, staying open for more than four decades has granted Sassy’s the aura of a permanent fixture in the firmament, with only the Prairie Inn eclipsing it for longevity in the area.
Sassy’s is closing because his wife, Candy, earlier this year was diagnosed with Alzheimer disease. Porter decided to sell the eatery so he could care for her during the time that remains.
This concern for family and others runs like a thread through the history of the restaurant.
“He loves the restaurant, loves the community, loves the people,” said daughter Jen Porter. Her dad showed this appreciation through fundraising for countless causes and personally donating.
“If there was a funeral or something happened in First Nations communities, my dad would turn up with a roast. (He) did free meals for veterans on Remembrance Day. On Mother’s Day, we used to hand out flowers. He has always gone that extra mile to make things personal and people remember that. ”
Jen expects her father will miss the restaurant and everything that was part of it. Countless families on the Saanich Peninsula made Sassy’s their go-to-spot for breakfast and other meals. Generations of high school students and revellers recovering from a late night have shot the breeze there. It even had a walk-on-part in Netflix’s Maid series.
“The restaurant was my dad’s Opus,” she said. “But at the same time, he is also ready to retire with my step-mom being sick and what not … I feel a bit of sadness that I’m not taking over the legacy.”
This said, Jen feels glad for having been a part of it as she and her sister, Carley Panzer, practically grew up in the restaurant.
“My dad used to bring me to work in a bucket of rags, on top of the rags and then he would get to work and hand me off to the coffee guys,” said Jen, now 41. “So the coffee guys would then babysit me. “People would say, ‘I used to change your diaper.’”
Naturally, she and Carley had their first jobs there, like all members of their respective families.
That history also includes Jen’s niece, Sapphira, or Sassy, as many regulars knew her. “She would pour cream in their coffee,” said Jen.
The popular 10-year-old died suddenly in 2011 of the rare disease hydrocephalus, which sees accumulating fluid put pressure on the brain and spinal cord.
Wishing to honour Sassy’s memory, the family renamed the restaurant, formerly Smitty’s.
The building’s future is uncertain, as the property is owned separately, but the business remains for sale for $195,000. An application to rezone the lot from tourist-commercial to a new comprehensive zone for a planned tourist-oriented mixed-use development has been submitted, but it’s uncertain when that may come before council.
In the countdown to Saturday’s closure Jen is experiencing a range of emotions. “It does feel like the end of an era,” she said. But like her father, she strikes an accepting tone.
“The end of something is the beginning of something new, and it’s okay to let it go. Change is inevitable.”
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