Oak Bay is a little less British today as the new owners of the former Blethering Place Tea Room take the wraps off its replacement behind the Tweed Curtain.
Gone are the portraits of the Queen and Sir Winston Churchill. Ditto for the tea cozies, Union Jacks, scones and Yorkshire pudding.
After 30 years as a British refuge, the newly christened Oak Bay Bistro has been transformed into a decidedly West Coast restaurant.
Some carpet, one wall of hardwood panelling and the beam-frame roof are all that remains of the Blethering Place as Bart Reed and Petr Prusa open the doors for an invitation party tonight and a grand opening on Saturday morning.
"When we first started this, people were complaining, but it was far fewer than expected," Reed said Wednesday as carpenters rushed to apply finishing touches to the 120-seat restaurant. "Lately, though, it's been nothing but positive. People in Oak Bay seem to be really happy with what we've done."
The partners, who spent more than $400,000 on the renovation, are confident the new restaurant will be well received. They say it fills a need for a "middle-of-the-road" eatery with good food, decent prices and a casual atmosphere for locals, the business crowd or destination diners.
"You've got the Penny Farthing Pub and Ottavio's Deli [on Oak Bay Avenue], a sushi place up the road and the Marina . . . and that's about it," said Reed. "We found a good middle and parked ourselves there."
They've hired John Waller, a noted chef from Tofino's Wickanninish Inn, to create a varied menu of beef, chicken and seafood entrees, salads, soups, breads and desserts. Almost everything is made in-house and from scratch, including peanut butter and jams, condiments like sour cream and mustards, all baking and what will likely become their signature "bottomless" daily soup rotation.
They'll be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with dishes starting at $6 and ranging to $25 for dinner entrees. The bistro has a food-primary licence to allow it to serve beer, wine and spirits with food.
Reed and Prusa are no strangers to the restaurant game. Both have well-established, popular brands in the city with Reed owning the Beagle Pub and Mocha House in Cook Street Village, and Prusa the popular Floyd's Diner, an all-day breakfast place in the pink building downtown.
Oak Bay Bistro is a bit of a misnomer, admits Reed. It's definitely a sit-down restaurant and a highlight is a 35-foot hardwood bar with stools that invites customers for a quick bite and drink. Or you can sit down for a two-hour meal, said Prusa.
"It's not a bistro, really" said Reed. "We just liked the name. It had a ring to it."
Reed and Prusa were originally planning to partner up for a restaurant in Fernwood where the current Stages is now set up, but were unsure of the traffic patterns and how a new restaurant would go over.
They decided to wait for another opportunity until Ken Agate, the long-time owner of the Blethering Place, decided late last year to retire.
The partners say opening amid fragile economic conditions with the HST and tougher drunk driving penalties said to be hurting the dining industry is not a concern.
"The expectations are high, there's history here and it's an amazing location," said Reed.
"People have always come here. As long as we do our job of providing good service, good food and an affordable price, people will come back here."
Oak Bay Bistro will employ about 30 staff and open at 7:30 a.m. daily.
While the former owner took out most of the British memorabilia, many of the dolls and knick-knacks that adorned the Blethering Place were given away in early February, said Reed. "We just put them out on the sidewalk and they disappeared," he said.
Agate, 66, closed the Blethering Place on Jan. 30, deciding it was time to retire. He has retained the name with indications he may reopen in a smaller location.
He estimated he had had more than 3.5 million customer visits since 1981, including afternoon tea gatherings of the local Monarchist League and other royal celebrations such as the Queen's birthday.
The building at the corner of Oak Bay Avenue and Monterey Avenue is one of the oldest commercial structures in Oak Bay, dating back to 1914, said Reed. The main entrance, which used to be gift shop at the Blethering Place, will now be a lounge.
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