With Oak Bay’s new temporary rule change to allow sidewalks and parking spots to be used as expanded patio space for stores, The Oaks Restaurant is hoping it can take advantage.
Oak Bay council approved a temporary bylaw amendment on May 21 that allows use of sidewalk space and street parking stalls. But the logistics for The Oaks, a corner restaurant, to open an expanded patio seating area along Oak Bay Avenue are limited.
The owners are working with Oak Bay engineering to find a way to add outdoor seats.
While the neighbouring Penny Farthing pub is applying to put a patio area of about 55 seats into four parking spots, the Oak Bay Avenue street-parking in front of The Oaks was already removed to make room for pedestrians.
“We are open, we brought back all our staff and we are ready to serve,” said owner Ditza Hopkins. “We knew coming back from COVID-19 was going to be hard, we came ready to roll up our sleeves and do it, but there are still a lot of challenges.”
Hopkins has run The Oaks with her husband Nicholas since they took it over eight years ago. Before that the space was The Bistro for one year and famously was Ken Agate’s The Blethering Place from 1981 until 2011. The couple actually put The Oaks up for sale earlier this year when they bought Mary’s Bleue Moon in Sidney.
“Once we established that we could run both restaurants we decided to stay with it,” Hopkins said.
But while some regulars have returned, business needs to double if they’re going to survive, she added.
“Before COVID-19 we were chugging along just fine,” Hopkins said. “We relied on filling the restaurant twice a day, at breakfast and lunch, to stay open. Our food deals are even better than before the restaurant closed for COVID-19.”
The hours are now expanded, and they’re open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The restaurant serves $5.25 pints of Guinness on Fridays, has a $13.25 beer and burger deal on Wednesdays, and a wing-night on Mondays. But the days of once again hosting live music every Friday (and some Sundays), which consistently filled the restaurant with customers, are unknown, she said.
“We were a community place, we offered the space for benefit concerts, and now we don’t know how or when we can do that,” Hopkins said.
COVID-19 seating restrictions have limited capacity to 45 inside and outside, total, down from the usual 130 customers.
One option is the open-air courtyard behind the restaurant, part of the curious design of the “Monterey Mews,” which hosts many businesses underneath The Oaks. It was built in 1912 and served as the grocery and post office.
“We can access the courtyard from the kitchen door and we can see it from the kitchen [and back of the restaurant],” Hopkins said. “The courtyard is small but could add a few tables, which will help.”
Essentially, the corner of the Monterey and Oak Bay Avenue intersection is too busy to put tables near, the parking stalls on The Avenue in front of The Oaks are already repurposed, and they can’t put tables in front of the neighbouring businesses. Oak Bay is considering adding back the temporary parking stall that was reserved to dropoff people with mobility issues in front of the restaurant, Hopkins added.
“We want to focus on the positives,” Hopkins said, acknowledging the COVID-19 impact is hard on many restaurants. “We have a chance to survive if the customers come back so support your local businesses.”