The pull of some locations is sometimes too strong to ignore.
With an estimated 30,000-plus cars either tearing past or sitting at the bottleneck confluence of Wilkinson Road, Interurban Road and Hastings Street in Saanich, a 3,000-square-foot pub and eatery tucked into a strip mall was too much for the owners of James Bay’s Heron Rock Bistro to pass up.
The location, previously a pub-styled restaurant known as the Knockan Back Grill, was a good opportunity for Ben Peterson and Andrew Moffatt, who have partnered with friends to spread their wings yet again. They already own and operate Heron Rock restaurant in James Bay.
The new pursuit in Saanich is the Crooked Goose Bistro — a play on the proximity of the new restaurant to both the Galloping Goose Trail and Wilkinson Road Jail.
“It was definitely the location that did it for us,” said Peterson. “It’s a central spot for the community and surrounding area.”
Peterson and Moffatt were tipped to the spot by friends Steve Watson and his partner, Gina Basra, who live in and know the area well. Crooked Goose chef Chris Bremner and the Heron Rock’s Jason Butcher are also part of the ownership group.
The Knockan Back had been closed for months and the space had been owned by the Truffles Group, which targeted the location for a Cascadia Liquor Store. That plan didn’t materialize and, late last summer, the Crooked Goose partnership swooped in, started ripping the place down to its studs and rebuilding the neighbourhood bistro. It’s now been open a month.
“It was a real can of worms,” Peterson said of the reno. “But we weren’t that surprised. It was more a case of here we go again.”
They had been through a reno when they opened the Heron Rock in 2005. The group also used the same kind of formula that worked in James Bay.
“The idea was a neighbourhood place that caters to the locals, serving up simple stuff using local suppliers and cooking from scratch,” said Peterson. “Our philosophy was good food at reasonable prices and really good value.
“The recipe at Heron Rock has been quite successful — support the local community and they support you in return.”
Through the first month in Saanich, that’s been the case, said Watson, who has worked in a number of restaurants in the city including Zambri’s and Brasserie L’Ecole.
“It’s been overwhelming at times,” Peterson said, noting the diverse neighbourhood seems to have embraced them out of the gate. But he’s quick to point out none of them are getting ahead of themselves.
“You can’t help but be a little nervous, places are shutting down,” Peterson said, with a nod to the recently closed Applebees at Tuscany Village. “There’s always the what-ifs, but if the response in the first month is any indication then it’s kind of exciting for us.”
In addition to people living in the area, the restaurant can draw from nearby institutions such as the Vancouver Island Tech Park, Camosun College’s Interurban campus and Victoria General Hospital.
They make no bones about trading on the long history of the site as a pub. “It’s had that rep for so long and that’s great for us because now people come here for that and find we have the food element as well,” said Peterson.
The menu has plenty of pub-styled appeal from the poutine that’s become a hit at Heron Rock to a wide selection of burgers and pulled-pork sandwiches with homemade buns.
“So it’s great to be known as a watering hole first.”
Still the sheer numbers have taken them aback.
“I was overwhelmed by the amount of booze we sold over the first weekend,” said Watson.
“We have 10 taps on and we brought in a couple of kegs of each and three or four of the big ones and we sold everything. I was changing kegs all night long — that’s a good thing.”
The other change is the look inside the bistro.
Gone are the dark ceilings, walls and floors, replaced with a clean, bright room with simple modern tables and chairs, a red-tiled bar that draws the eye, good lighting and local art.
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