Floyd’s Diner stakes claim on James Bay corner but might close on Quadra

As one door opens at Floyd’s Diner, another might be closing on the downtown Victoria breakfast institution.

Floyd’s has been open at its new location in James Bay — the former James Bay Tea Room at the corner of Menzies and Superior streets — for just over a month, and it’s been doing a steady stream of business.

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But at its flagship location at the corner of Yates and Quadra streets downtown, owner Petr Prusa admits he’s considering shutting down the grill.

“Our lease is up in January and we are not sure we can renew,” said Prusa, noting the $12,000-a-month rent and the constant problems of a downtown location near ground zero of homelessness has made doing business difficult.

Prusa said there’s a chance the restaurant may remain where it is if he can strike a good deal with their landlord, but he doesn’t hold out much hope. “Everything has gone up. Property values have gone up, property taxes are up and that means rent goes up,” he said. “There’s only so much you can charge for an egg.

“It would be heartbreaking if it closed. That is the original Floyd’s, and it’s not just the restaurant, it’s people who have worked there since we opened the doors 15 years ago,” he said.

Which begs the question, why he opened another Floyd’s in James Bay? “Because I’m slightly insane, I think,” the 52-year-old Prusa said with a laugh.

For Prusa it’s a return to the neighbourhood. He opened Cup of Joe up the street at 230 Menzies St. in 1997 before selling the cafe in 2004. “I have always liked this space. It was the Texas Grill when I was a kid, then it was the Tea Room forever,” he said. “When [the Tea Room] closed I thought it wouldn’t be a bad breakfast joint.”

So he gutted the restaurant, rebuilt the interior for about $115,000 and painted it the same horrific pink as the sister restaurant on Quadra Street.

“We thought we would make it into a corner everyone would know about,” he said of the 45-seat restaurant which like its sister outlets is only open for breakfast and lunch.

Opening a new joint is nothing new for Prusa who has worked in the industry since the early 1980s. But he concedes it has new challenges these days.

“The industry is pretty crazy. Look at how many restaurants there are. {Victoria is] a great place for food. There are so many options,” he said. “And that’s a good thing as it keeps everyone on their game. You have to be good — and it’s not just about the food — or you won’t survive.”

Hospitality industry consultant Frank Bourree, principal of Chemistry Consulting, said while restaurant revenue in B.C. is up 7.3 per cent year-to-date, operators are facing increased costs and a shortage of labour.

“We will have a record year this year and that’s put a tremendous amount of pressure on staffing,” he said. “If I had 50 cooks, I could have them working tomorrow in Victoria alone. That’s how desperate it is. It’s tough and I don’t see a solution to it anytime soon.”

That’s because there are not enough students enrolled in culinary programs, and there are not enough seats in those programs to keep up with demand.

And the restaurant trade is competing for workers against the “sexier” high-tech field and the booming construction industry.

“There are a lot of pressures on the restaurant business right now,” said Peter DeBruyn, a restaurant consultant and Victoria branch director of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association. “According to the province, there are 14,000 job openings in the province in the restaurant industry alone.”

DeBruyn said that shortage is compounded with housing pressures and a lack of affordable homes for young workers in the city core where they are needed.

“There’s also the rising cost of goods, which translates to selling prices for consumers,” he said. That puts restaurant operators in a tough position of trying to remain competitive with pricing and trying to make a living.

But despite all the obstacles Prusa said he is looking for the right location for a fourth Floyd’s (there is a third in Langford as well as a mobile food truck) and a possible replacement downtown location.

“We are working on it,” he said, noting it’s tough downtown despite the amount of available space. “It must have already been a restaurant just because of the sheer cost of having to build a kitchen from scratch.”

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