Caffe Teatro owners Wayne Empey and Thanh Pham with banh mi sandwiches at the popular restaurant on the corner of Broughton and Blanshard Streets. The couple is one example of independent owners who have struggled to compete in the saturated Victoria restaurant scene.

Caffe Teatro owners Wayne Empey and Thanh Pham with banh mi sandwiches at the popular restaurant on the corner of Broughton and Blanshard Streets. The couple is one example of independent owners who have struggled to compete in the saturated Victoria restaurant scene.

Despite tough challenges, restaurants thrive in city

Casual Victoria eateries find their niche in a saturated marketplace

When Wayne Empey and his wife Thanh Pham purchased a tired cafe on the corner of Broughton and Blanshard streets, they knew they were wading into a volatile industry.

Four years later, Caffe Teatro has come out ahead of the economic downtown by providing Vietnamese cuisine to the suit-and-tie crowd, but Empey’s upbeat persona fades momentarily as he discusses staying afloat in Victoria’s saturated food service industry.

“We only manage to survive because my wife and I run the place,” he said. “The naiveté of people to open up restaurants today, I don’t know who’s opening up these new places. Where do they get the money?”

There are 534 active food service licences in the City of Victoria, including 26 new licences for 2013. Those numbers don’t include food trucks or grandfathered food cart licences.

Despite dwindling tourism, the ill-fated harmonized sales tax, a chill on alcohol sales from stricter drinking-driving laws and a 24 per cent bump in payroll due to minimum wage increases, Victoria’s restaurant scene continues to thrive.

“People are still satisfying that urge to go out and be social, but they’re just doing it in smaller, tangible ways,” said Bob Parotta, Victoria chair of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservice Association.

Restaurants that have closed in recent months, like Rick’s Grill and Sauce, represent a North American-wide trend of larger establishments losing out to “fast-casual” food, Parotta said.

“There’s just a surge in the breakfast and casual places right now due to economic times.”

B.C. restaurants lost an estimated $1.5 billion in food sales during the reign of the HST, according to the Canadian Food Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

In April, the first month after the HST was abolished, food sales shot up between six to nine per cent across the Capital Region, Parotta said.

“It was a tough few years, because the government didn’t give us the time to adjust to any of those changes,” he said. “But we’ve all learned to work with it now, we have taster programs for wines, we can plan drink menus so by the end of a meal, the customer is still under .05 (blood alcohol level). We just need to be consulted beforehand.”

The uphill climb for mom-and-pop food establishments like Caffe Teatro was the norm even prior to the recession, said Frank Bourree, principal of Chemistry Consulting Group and expert in food service trends.

“It’s super competitive here, we’ve got more and more chains in the market,” Bourree said. “What has changed is fast food is a much bigger piece of the market today than 20 years ago.”

Empey suggests the city could restrict restaurant density downtown to support existing restaurants and avoid over-servicing a finite business population.

It’s great to have options, but it’s too dense,” he said. “There should be a moratorium on restaurant zoning on certain city blocks.”

Coun. Shellie Gudgeon flatly rejected the idea, but said the City’s next big food service policy will likely be zoning restrictions for food trucks.

“We are saturated (with restaurants), there’s no doubt. But as an industry, we need to step it up on all levels,  said Gudgeon, who also owns Il Terrazzo Ristorante. “The tough economic times have shown us that we can’t just open the doors and wheel people in, we have to have a quality product. Five, 10 years ago it was far too easy.”

Parotta points to food festivals like Taste and Victoria’s inaugural Spot Prawn Festival earlier this year as indicators of a healthy appetite for more food-centric events in the Capital Region.

“Everybody’s talking about a definite mark of improvement this summer,” he said. “I think this is going to be a good year.”

 

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The construction zone remains for now at Clover Point, but plans for a new pedestrian zone and partially closed traffic loop were approved by Victoria councillors on Thursday. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Victoria council compromises with partial closure of Clover Point

Option preserves parking 14 spots facing ocean, creates more pedestrian space

(Black Press Media file photo)
Trees Cannabis to reignite downtown Victoria location as licensed store

The dispensary will reopen its 230 Cook St. location on Saturday

A wind warning is in effect for Greater Victoria Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media file photo)
Strong winds predicted for Greater Victoria

Environment Canada issues warning for Thursday afternoon

Sergeant Francis Dion with the box containing HMCS Calgary’s new secret mascot costume. (HMCSNCSMCalgary/Facebook)
Don Devenney is a Goldstream Gazette 2021 Local Hero as Community Builder of the year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
West Shore volunteer’s efforts an exercise in adventurous pursuits

Don Devenney is the 2021 recipient of the Community Builder Award

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen as COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Most Read