Longtime ByWard Market cheese shop closing after more than 40 years

Beloved ByWard Market shop The House of Cheese is closing after more than 40 years in business. (Andrew Lee/CBC - image credit)
Beloved ByWard Market shop The House of Cheese is closing after more than 40 years in business. (Andrew Lee/CBC - image credit)

When Victoria Joyal's parents took over Ottawa gastronomic staple The House of Cheese in 1988, the ByWard Market was "the place to go" for cheese connoisseurs.

"All the farmers were downtown," she said. "You couldn't even walk on the sidewalk without touching somebody."

But with the pandemic leaving the market looking "like a ghost town," Joyal said she's decided to shut both their ByWard Market and Barrhaven locations.

The ByWard Market shop's financial troubles stemmed from a lack of foot traffic and an eroding customer base, which Joyal attributed to both COVID-19 restrictions and the disruption from last winter's convoy protest.

"All the government workers left. They all started working from home. There were no tourists," she told CBC Radio's All In A Day last week. "There wasn't enough money coming in to make all the payments."

In business since 1979

The House of Cheese opened its storefront on Byward Market Square in 1979, but it wasn't until 1988 that Joyal's parents purchased the shop from its original owners.

Joyal's parents ran the business for years until her husband Brad, let go during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout from his job as a massage therapist with the Ottawa Senators, found himself looking for work.

Around the same time, her father was considering retirement. In 2010, he sold the shop to his son-in-law.

"Cheese for my husband, prior to myself marrying him, was Cheez Whiz," Joyal said. "He wasn't much of a cheese lover, until he started working at the store."

Once he entered that world, however, he caught on quickly.

"At the end, he was a cheese expert," she said. "He was a cheesemonger."

But then the pandemic hit, and the following years took a toll on both the business and her husband's health. When her husband died of a heart attack last February, the shop was no longer able to pay its bills.

After his death, Joyal took a leave of absence from her job in hopes of keeping The House of Cheese afloat. But recently, she made the difficult decision to close it down.

"My heart could rest assured that I did give it that chance," she said. "I just couldn't do what I felt I needed to do."