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Popular Apple Tree restaurant uprooting from Hillside to View Royal

The Apple Tree restaurant, a fixture at Hillside Centre for 22 years and a favourite lunch and coffee spot for seniors, is relocating to View Royal.
Owners Kim Darwin and Sandy Lang: ñemotional.î

The Apple Tree restaurant, a fixture at Hillside Centre for 22 years and a favourite lunch and coffee spot for seniors, is relocating to View Royal.

Sandy Lang, who has operated the Apple Tree with sister Kim Darwin since the eatery was opened as part of a mall expansion in 1991, said the last day at Hillside is April 24. The partners will re-open — and double their space to 160 seats — in the former Ricky’s Restaurant at Admirals Walk on May 1.

Lang was offered a new space as part of Hillside’s $70-million expansion and renovation. But she said it was much smaller than her current 90 seats and that “just didn’t work” because the Apple Tree’s standard-fare menu of all-day breakfast, kid’s meals and lunch and dinner specials relies on volume.

Leaving Hillside and their steady stream of customers has made it “a sad couple of days around here,” said Lang.

“It’s very emotional ... we’ve become very attached to our customers. They come here for coffee, early dinners and we always have fun and share stories,” said Lang.

There were the usual lineups on Wednesday for the lunch special — a sandwich with soup, tart and coffee for $10.95 — and plenty of disappointment about the move. Some people blamed the mall for the loss of “small, independent operators” in favour of larger, chain-style stores. Indeed, several local operators have left during Hillside’s prolonged renovation, among them Specht’s Pet Store, one of the original tenants of the mall.

Hillside’s massive reorganization includes an 80,000-square-foot addition, which will be anchored by Shoppers Drug Mart, Sport Chek and U.S. fashion giant Marshalls. Target is also building a new store on the former Zellers site.

An expanded food court with five new quick-service outlets is also in the works. The existing food court tenants are remaining and others, including Subway and Edo Japan, are moving in. Once finished, there will be seating for 625, up from the 250 available now during the construction period.

Hillside officials did not return calls on whether a replacement restaurant is planned. However, sources say some sort of dining is planned, likely near the Sears store.

The mall’s approaches and parking areas are also under construction, causing traffic backups and some confusion in areas.

“There’s no one in the mall with all this construction, but this place is always full,” said one diner at the Apple Tree.

Several emails and calls to the Times Colonist also mourned the Apple Tree’s passing at Hillside. “They are a good restaurant, great owners/managers, faithful clientele, well established,” said Parksville resident Terri Elston.

“It’s just a nice place to go. The owners are great, the staff are friendly and we like the food,” said a caller.

Lang said seniors and young families were the “bread and butter,” adding a shift in the retail mix had many seniors saying most of the new stores didn’t interest them.

“A lot of seniors say the only thing here for them now is Thrifty Foods. There’s a Thrifty’s at Admirals, so we hope they come out there.”

The mall-walkers program, which allowed seniors to walk through the mall before stores opened most mornings, has also been postponed due to the complicated construction schedule and ever-changing layout.

It isn’t known if that decision is permanent.

Lang, married to well-known local restaurateur Bill Lang, owner of the Princess Mary in Vic West, said the former Ricky’s in View Royal has been undergoing a minor renovation and will be ready on May 1.