Rent increase forces closure of Kitsilano brunch spot after 30 years of business

·3 min read
Nelly’s Grill in Vancouver, B.C. is pictured on Tuesday. The brunch spot, which has served the neighbourhood for 30 years, is closing at the end of the month due to an impending rent increase, says the restaurant's owner.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Nelly’s Grill in Vancouver, B.C. is pictured on Tuesday. The brunch spot, which has served the neighbourhood for 30 years, is closing at the end of the month due to an impending rent increase, says the restaurant's owner. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Since 1993, loyal patrons have flocked to Nelly's Grill, a casual brunch place on West 4th Avenue in Vancouver's Kitstilano neighbourhood, known for its friendly service and eggs benedict.

But Nelly's Grill — formerly Joe's Grill — will be closed by the end of the month.

Owner Nelson Ma told CBC he made the difficult decision to close due to an impending rent increase of at least 40 per cent.

"When my rent goes up at least by 40 per cent, there's no way we're going to survive ... I've decided that it's time to move on," said Ma.

Their building's new owner, who bought the place last September, told Ma they will increase the restaurant's rent when their lease ends at the end of 2023.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Ma initially tried to sell his business when the new landlord took over, but said buyers were not interested because of the rent increase.

"I'm just closing because of the rent, nothing else ... It's not because we're not doing good business."

'Smiling faces and the best bennies ever'

Fiona Scott, who lived in one of the two residential suites above Nelly's Grill for over seven years, was a regular customer. She went to Nelly's the first week she moved in, and said Ma and the staff soon became family friends.

"They were always very welcoming and it was very obvious from the regulars that they had in the diner. I was happy to become one."

Fiona Scott
Fiona Scott

Scott had to move out last month because the new owner is renovating the suites for over a year, she said, adding she does not plan to return.

"I don't think I really ever got a clear answer whether I could come back. I'm sure the rent is nearly doubled," said Scott.

Scott said she will miss the community at Nelly's and her favourite order, the 'Kitchen Sink,' which she describes as "a good plate of everything."

"They're a family ... their legacy is smiling faces and the best bennies ever."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Jane McFadden, executive director of the Kitsilano Business Association, said Nelly's is a staple in the neighbourhood — a great spot for early risers who want a good breakfast, those nursing a hangover, and everyone in between.

"Everyone's really going to miss that staff and that environment.

"It's just sad to see it go."

'Local treasures will be priced out of the market'

The building's new landlord, a company called Novena Land, also owns the buildings on West 4th Avenue that housed Bishop's Restaurant and Peak Golf's former location.

Bishop's closed earlier this year because of a rent increase, while Peak Golf told CBC they relocated to a new building for the same reason.

Novena Land did not respond to CBC's request for an interview.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Vancouver city councillor Colleen Hardwick, a long-time customer of Nelly's, said she is "heartbroken" to see the restaurant go.

She says there is little the city can do to protect local businesses, as commercial tenancy protections fall on the province.

"Speculators are getting in on the action and this will transform the neighbourhood. As we're already seeing, the mom and pop shops, the local treasures will be priced out of the market," said Hardwick.

While Nelly's is saying goodbye for now, Ma said he is looking for a space to operate in the future.

"I have a lot of good loyal customers and I thank them very much. I really appreciate all their patronage all these years."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting