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Restaurant finds brighter future in Victoria suburbs

The little restaurant that should never have been - or at least the one that never should have survived - may not be hanging around downtown Victoria anymore. But it's doing just fine nestled in a relatively quiet Victoria neighbourhood.
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Chef and GM Dave Fielden outside Cabin 12 restaurant on Cedar Hill Road.

The little restaurant that should never have been - or at least the one that never should have survived - may not be hanging around downtown Victoria anymore.

But it's doing just fine nestled in a relatively quiet Victoria neighbourhood.

Cabin 12, which moved to new digs at 3111 Cedar Hill Rd. near Cedar Hill Recreation Centre in March, appears to have taken a shine to a more suburban life.

"It's going really well. It's pretty much night and day from our first location," said co-owner Corey Judd, who started the restaurant in the spring of 2009 on the ground floor of the Victoria Plaza Hotel.

"This is perfect for us. It's our long-term goal to be a real local stop, and this is a location that will take a little while, but we think word of mouth will get it there."

The new site, which at one point housed La Collina bakery, is a far cry from the slightly troubled corner of Pandora Avenue and Government Street, which served as Cabin 12's first front yard. "It's very different. There were so many battles from the very beginning. It was a restaurant that probably shouldn't have survived," said Judd. "You don't open a restaurant with $15,000 and no credit."

The restaurant weathered a near-closure in its first year, but partners Heather and Dan Del Villano invested and joined Judd to keep it going. It also had to deal with the typical aftermath of late-night life in a downtown core, to say nothing of the near-constant threat of the lease being pulled by developers.

The Victoria Plaza Hotel was targeted by GMC Partners and League Capital Partners, which planned to completely reinvent the hotel. The result was that tenants like Cabin 12 and Monty's Showroom Pub were told they would be forced to look for new space eventually.

"It was hard, and we knew it would be from the beginning," said Judd, who admits there are moments he misses the old spot. "The landlords of the hotel gave me a chance when no one would have, and when the windows were smashed, Monty's came to help us.

There's story after story like that. We got a lot of support from a hotel that has been kicked around a little bit."

But at the end of the day, the space just wasn't going to last. Cabin 12 was to have gone from one-year leases to month-to-month as the closing of a sale of the building neared and renovation started.

"The writing was on the wall from the very beginning, so we were looking for a suitable spot to go to. And now to have a long-term lease in a building that is beautiful and a great little neighbourhood, that's as nice as it gets," said Judd.

"And it's nice to give the business and my crew a safe, stable place."

It's also a bigger place with 65 seats instead of the 45 in the downtown location. And they have expanded the menu to include dinner.

"We didn't want to risk trying [night service] in our old spot where we were a bit sketchy," said Judd, who noted the expanded labour budget allowed the company to hire a Red Seal chef and expand staff to 22 from 13.

Judd said the menu is still what he calls "Kootenay comfort food" and while breakfast has continued to be the backbone of the joint, dinner is catching on.

They have even managed to keep ahold of some of their regulars. "Definitely more than we expected. We knew we'd lose some because people have their routines and schedules, but we've been surprised at how many live in the neighbourhood or are making the trek," said Judd. "At the same time, we're seeing a shift in the clientele."

When asked what sets Cabin 12 apart, he's unequivocal. "We survived the hardest location in town," he said with a laugh. "We had to run tight and make sure we had a crew that had our interests at heart, so we made sure our staff were well taken care of because they are the engine that drives the machine."