British Columbia

Owners of new Victoria lounges undaunted by hurdles posed by pandemic

What does it take to successfully open a new restaurant or lounge in a pandemic? Two new entries to the dining and drinks scene in Victoria are finding out.

Original plans had to change, but owners of Sedona Cafe and Citrus and Cane are optimistic

Sedona Cafe and Lounge owner Yvonne Janzen installed solid barriers between tables to meet COVID-19 safety protocols, but customers tell her they also like the sense of privacy they provide. (Yvonne Janzen)

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.

Pandemic-related challenges have delayed the opening of the Citrus and Cane tropical cocktail bar more than 6 months beyond their original plans. (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.

Citrus and Cane tropical cocktail bar co-owner Tim Siebert says pandemic-related delays gave them time to refine their plans and restore the original 1970s features of the former nightclub venue that they took over earlier this year. (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:

Gregor Craigie spoke with two restauranteurs about opening new businesses during the pandemic. Gregor's guest were Yvonne Janzen is the owner of Sedona Cafe which has just opened on Cadboro Bay Road in Oak Bay, and Tim Siebert is co-owner of Citrus and Cane tropical lounge set to open next month in the location of the former Copper Owl nightclub on Douglas Street in Victoria. 9:37

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