Sauce Restaurant and Lounge, a once-popular downtown Victoria eatery at the corner of Yates and Wharf streets that has struggled as of late, closed its doors for good Wednesday morning.
Sauce management let the news out via social media early Wednesday.
“Well friends, it appears we've served our last chicken strips. Let’s not concern ourselves too much with the absence of Sauce, but rather with the unbeatable times we had here over the past nine and a half years,” owner Steve Hof wrote in a Facebook post. “The outpouring of kindness and support has been palpable and I’m touched to see that Sauce has made an impact on so many people’s lives.”
A note on Twitter sent Wednesday morning added: “The rumours are true my friends. Sorry to say we’ve served our last meals. It was a pleasure and an honour to serve you all.”
In an interview, Hof said he simply had no choice but to shut down.
The restaurant opened in late 2003.
“If I could have hung on, I would have,” Hof said, noting there is some frustration in knowing if they could have held on until later in the spring when tourist traffic might have kept them afloat. “But to be honest, we were close to being in a similar boat last year. We made summer, that gets you through to Christmas time, and then it’s a repeated cycle.
“I’m not sure if it had just run its course, but I definitely put 110 per cent into it and it didn’t seem to be getting much better.”
A slow start to the tourist season probably didn’t help the restaurant.
Over the first two months of the year, hotel occupancy was down 2.85 per cent compared with the same period in 2012. B.C. Ferries traffic on the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route also slipped. Vehicle traffic was down 1.32 per cent, passenger numbers were down 0.69 per cent and bus traffic was off 4.8 per cent. The airport’s passenger numbers slipped 0.26 per cent, according to figures released Wednesday by Chemistry Consulting.
“It’s that time of year we see closures unfortunately,” said hospitality industry consultant Frank Bourree. “[Restaurants] grind it out through a long winter and their cash reserves have been drained and some can’t struggle on until the spring and summer.”
Hof said they were always busy on Friday and Saturday nights, but these days the congestion didn’t translate into enough on the bottom line.
“The difference between 2008, when we were busy all day and doing $15,000 on a [Friday or Saturday], compared to recently when we were doing $6,000 a day and slow the rest of the week ... well that’s the difference between breaking even and not,” he said.
Hof said there was no one incident that pushed Sauce into closing.
“We kind of peaked in 2008 and, while we were seeing a little bit of growth in the last few months, it wasn’t enough to catch up on a bunch of bills,” he said.
The closure affects 25 staff. Hof said management have made calls to restaurants in the area to try and help many of his staff get new jobs.
“It’s a good time of year for this industry because in a month or so we will be peaking up for the tourist season, so hopefully they can find something,” he said.
Hof said he will be taking some time to re-assess and mend — he broke some bones in a fall recently and is walking with a cane — but he expects to be back in some form of business.
“I won’t be opening a place of my own in the near future, but all I’ve ever wanted to do is run my own business so we will see where the next opportunity pops up,” he said.
Sauce opened in 2003 after a $150,000 renovation of what had been an underperforming location that housed the Hog in the Pound restaurant and Wharf Street Grill.
Behind the restaurant at that time were Dan Blackmore and Gary Strachan, who were backed by investors led by Blackmore’s father Jim, who made his name in the restaurant industry with the Keg. The elder Blackmore owned the two local Kegs and Chandlers restaurants but sold them in 1990.