The sign at 2620 Rock Bay Ave. pretty much says it all: Wheelies — Café Motorcycles. It’s as simple as that — food and bikes.
Even so, there is a slight complication in that the two owners of the brand new joint aren’t entirely sure yet if it’s a café with a motorbike shop attached, or a motorbike shop with an accompanying café.
“We’re still learning who our customer is,” Wheelies co-owner Jason Pincombe said.
“So far it’s been about 60 per cent people walking in and 40 per cent people riding up.”
What the duo, Pincombe and business partner Joel Harrison, do know is they have been thinking about combining motorcycles with food for a while.
“[Jason] used to ride to my garage and hang out, and I’d ride to his and hang out, so we thought why not make something for other people to ride to,” said Harrison, the mechanic and upholsterer of the pair. “It’s a place to go, a fun comfortable place to go where you feel welcome.
“And you don’t even have to ride a motorbike.”
Tucked into the Rock Bay industrial area, the spot offers about 830 square feet of retail space and a 17-seat café. And through an adjoining door is 500 square feet of motorcycle workshop — tools, lifts and on-site expertise — capable of doing full custom work including upholstery.
Wheelies may be on the vanguard of the changing face of the industrial Rock Bay neighbourhood.
Already, there are craft brewers and restaurants dotted among light manufacturing concerns and recycling depots.
Victoria Coun. Lisa Helps said the neighbourhood is ripe for more. “Rock Bay is where a lot of the future of Victoria lies in terms of reinventing a really interesting scene and Wheelies is indicative of that — there’s industrial with the motorcycle repair coupled with really good local organic food,” she said.
“There’s almost this return to small-scale, arts and crafts manufacturing; I think there’s great potential down there.”
With the relatively high cost of operating businesses and living downtown, options such as Rock Bay on the edge of the core are attractive, Helps said.
“The stigma has worn off and I think we will see some really interesting niche businesses pop up and some live-work space that’s a part of that,” she said.
Wheelies intends to be part of it. The firm has opened with five employees — chef, barista, cashier, mechanic and retail person — and are already planning to add to the ranks with a part-time mechanic.
Wheelies’ entire space is tied together by the motorcycle theme — old biker movies play on a loop on one wall, memorabilia, posters, helmets and gear line shelves, rockabilly music jangles over the sound system, and if you need the authentic feel and smell of the garage, it’s just through a door.
“It’s all about motorcycles,” said Pincombe, who left a career managing nightclubs to start Wheelies.
“We had a common goal to create a space that was not only a motorcycle shop but a funky café. There are some similar models like See See Motorcycle Coffee in Portland, which has motorcycle retail and a café, but no one has included the whole thing with a shop area.”
The shop space, which will specialize in tuning up and fixing older bikes, includes a lift for those who want to work on their own bikes but don’t have the tools or space at home.
Harrison said the space can be rented by the hour, half day or week with the price varying between $15 and $20 an hour, depending on how long someone needs it.
The pair have also worked to ensure the café is not an afterthought, and that both sides of the business are complementary and a draw for customers.
“We are still in organizational mode, seeing how the space works,” said Pincombe, who clearly believes they are backing a winner. “I’m a hospitality guy, [Harrison] is mechanical and we figured if we mesh the two together there might be something there.”
Pincombe said it was important to them that they established a menu they could stand behind and be proud of.
“People in this neighbourhood have said it’s kind of a food desert,” he said, noting their chef Kai Musseau sources ingredients locally whenever possible. “This is going to be a place for people who enjoy good local food. We’re servicing a neighbourhood we deem to be under-serviced.”