Owners of new Victoria lounges undaunted by hurdles posed by pandemic

·2 min read

Thousands of B.C. businesses have closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, either temporarily or permanently.

For restaurants and bars that remain open, reduced seating, reduced hours and fewer tourists have shrunk revenues.

But the obstacles haven't deterred a couple of Victoria-area business owners from opening new places to dine and drink this fall.

Yvonne Janzen, owner of the Sedona Cafe and Lounge in the east of the city, told CBC's On The Island host Gregor Craigie she had no choice but to forge ahead despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

"When this hit, we'd already been in the plans for two years of construction," Janzen said. "So we just kind of worked with what we thought would happen."

Seating was reconfigured to reduce the number of tables and tall wooden partitions were added to separate them.

Physical distancing rules meant fewer construction workers were allowed in the workspace, which led to delays. The landlord was supportive, though, Janzen said.

Janzen said her restaurant's first month saw brisk business with mainly dine-in customers.

"In general, the takeout hasn't been too much in demand," she said. "People really want to sit down. I think people are just tired of eating out of a box."

Diners even like the solid barriers between the tables for the sense of privacy they provide, she said.

Citrusandcane.com/Instagram
Citrusandcane.com/Instagram

'Just a small pivot'

In downtown Victoria, Tim Siebert and his partner Jessa Gildersleeve took ownership of the former Copper Owl nightclub in January. They planned to make over and reopen the business by April.

Instead, their new Citrus and Cane tropical cocktail bar opens this month with its vintage 1970s character restored.

The dance floor and live music are gone — fortunately for the owners, it turns out, because in September the provincial health officer ordered the closure of nightclubs to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

"I mean, we'd always wanted to be kind of a sit-down lounge bar anyway," Siebert said.

"So, it's just a small pivot."

In another pandemic-related twist, the B.C. government purchased the building that includes their leased cocktail bar space, as well as the adjoining 77-unit Paul's Motor Inn. The motel rooms were repurposed to provide accommodation for homeless people.

Tim Siebert/facebook.com
Tim Siebert/facebook.com

Siebert said despite initial stress about the new arrangement, they've been encouraged by B.C. Housing's management and support.

He said he's confident their 54-seat bar, even with less than half the licensed seats of pre-pandemic times, has the potential to be a "very viable" business.

"So, yeah, very optimistic," he said.

To listen to the full interview with Yvonne Janzen and Tim Siebert tap the link below: