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Frustrated owner of Royal Arms Cafe to close business

After more than 20 years in business, a restaurant in Thunder Bay's south core is closing.
Wanda Kerslake, owner of the Royal Arms Cafe in Thunder Bay's south core pours a customer some coffee. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

After more than 20 years in business, a restaurant in Thunder Bay's south core is closing. 

The owner of the Royal Arms cafe said she's fed up with heating problems, safety concerns, and a landlord who she says won't fix them.  

Wanda Kerslake's cafe is on the ground floor of the Royal Edward Arms social housing building.

In the past, tenants there have said they're worried about their safety.

Royal Arms Care owner Wanda Kerslake says she's sad to leave her customers, but she she's tired of battling her landlord, the Thunder Bay District Social Services Board. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Kerslake said she feels the same way.  

"I'm leaving because I just can't take this,” she said. “I can't go to the washroom because there [are] drunks laying there."

But Kerslake said a lack of proper heating is also driving her away.

Both this winter and last, it's been as cold as 5 C — indoors — when she arrives in the morning.

"My customers are sitting here with toques and mitts on drinking their coffee,” she said.

She's complained to her landlord, the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board. Kerslake said workers have come and gone, but the problem still isn't fixed. She said she feels like the board just doesn't care.

Kitchen appliances used for heating

Bill Bradica, chief administrative officer, District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board. (CBC)

The head of the Social Services Board said it is unfortunate the Royal Arms Cafe is closing, and wishes Kerslake well.

Chief administrative officer Bill Bradica said the board has responded to her concerns.

"Last winter, a year ago, we did replace a heater ... with ... a brand-new heater and … in spite of that, when the weather does get … down to - 40 C there can still be some issues with that."

Kerslake said she’s resorted to using her own appliances to warm up the restaurant in the winter.

"The ovens go on as soon as I come in,” she said.

“I turn every element on my coffeepot machine. I have five elements on there, so they're on high heat. My stove is on high heat.  My toaster I keep running, because that projects a lot of heat."

These regulars at the Royal Arms Cafe in Thunder Bay's south core will have to find somewhere else to have their morning coffee. Owner Wanda Kerslake is closing the restaurant down after more than 20 years in business. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Bradica said the board has also significantly improved security at the Royal Edward Arms over the last year.

But these measures have not been enough to satisfy Kerslake, who said she's sad to leave her customers.

Morning coffee at the Royal Arms Cafe on May Street is an almost daily ritual for people — from all walks of life — who have been meeting there for years. Kerslake said they're like family.

"It was sad when I was telling them that I was leaving Jan. 31."

The District Social Services Administration Board's lease on the Royal Edward Arms building runs out in July 2015 and its housing tenants there will be relocated.  The city of Thunder Bay owns the property.

Bradica said any decision about moving another commercial tenant into the Royal Arms Cafe space would have to be made by the city.   

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