Back to basics at Willows Galley restaurant

Popular Oak Bay haunt returns to its roots

Dave Higgins

Dave Higgins

Not too many people can say they own the place that gave them their first job. But that’s exactly the case for David Higgins.

Higgins reopened the Willows Galley in Estevan Village late last year, completing a circle nearly 30 years in the making.

It’s the very same restaurant where a 12-year-old Higgins was once hired by original owner Glen Harper. In keeping with a tried and true restaurant tradition, he started at the bottom and worked his way up.

“I started out peeling the potatoes and doing the dishes and cleaning up afterwards,” said Higgins, now 39. “Then in the summertime Glen trained me on the grill and everything else. By the time I was done here, I had pretty well done everything and learned everything.”

Higgins ended up spending four years at the restaurant, and the experience left an indelible mark.

“Glen and Willows Galley were definitely the one that planted the seed for me to become a chef and go into cooking,” he said.

After learning the ropes as a teenager working at the Galley, Higgins went on to complete his chef’s apprenticeship at the Victoria Golf Club. He subsequently worked in a number of kitchens around the Capital Region, including stints at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and Government House. When the opportunity arose to purchase the Willows, he jumped at the chance.

“I think that’s what everybody works towards, having their own business or working for themselves, and this one especially because I worked here when I was 12 and it’s got a lot of meaning to me,” Higgins said.

“It feels like being back home.”

And that’s how he wants his customers to feel. There have been two other owners since Harper retired a few years ago – though he still owns the building – and Higgins wanted to make sure the menu reflected the restaurant’s roots. He has removed a few of the more recent additions to the menu and gone back to the staples like fish and chips and seafood chowder that put the restaurant on the map when it first opened in 1978.

“I just want it to be Willows Galley, the way it used to be when Glen had it,” Higgins said. “The feedback has been great because of that. Basically I just want to keep the tradition going.”

Since the grand reopening last Dec. 10, business has been great, Higgins said. He attributes that success to the quality of the food and the restaurant’s neighbourhood atmosphere.

“When I worked here before, (people) always referred to Willows Galley as the Cheers’ kind of atmosphere, where everybody knows your name,” he said. “That’s the way I want to keep it.”

 

 

Just Posted

Four residents and two cats were displaced from their home in James Bay when a fire broke out Sunday afternoon. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
No injuries in James Bay house fire

Fire broke out at about 2 p.m. Sunday

Construction will begin soon on a building in Victoria designed for families and seniors with low to moderate household incomes. (Black Press Media file photo)
New building in Victoria aimed at providing more affordable homes for families, seniors

Four-storey building will provide 58 homes for residents with low to moderate household incomes

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

A single-vehicle incident impacted the morning commute on the Pat Bay Highway. (Black Press Media file photo)
TRAFFIC: Single-vehicle incident closes section of Pat Bay

Northbound traffic down to one lane, southbound reopened

LeoVegas's promotional art for their survey of Canada's funniest proviences (LeoJoker)
B.C. second-funniest province in Canada: online survey

Dry humour popular with B.C. residents – we’re also boisterous laughers

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Most Read