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Uncertain future for café and bakery in heritage building

Willie’s Café and Bakery — located in a colourful heritage building on Johnson Street — has shut its doors and its future is unclear. Signs posted in the windows of 537 Johnson St.
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Willie's Cafe and Bakery at 537 Johnson St. in downtown Victoria.

Willie’s Café and Bakery — located in a colourful heritage building on Johnson Street — has shut its doors and its future is unclear.

Signs posted in the windows of 537 Johnson St. say Willie’s is closed for kitchen renovations, adding “we are really sorry for the inconvenience.”

The business owner, reached through a third party, declined to comment on Friday.

Passersby stopped Friday to peer in windows and take photos of the red, yellow and dark grey building, built in 1887 and designated as one of Canada’s Historic Places by the federal and provincial governments.

The two-storey Italianate-style building was opened as a bakery by miller and baker Louis Wille in 1887.

Wille’s Bakery, which ran from 1887 to 1976, was the oldest continuous bakery operation in B.C., according to the Canada’s Historic Places website.

The site says the structure, custom-designed by architect Elmer H. Fisher, reflects the typical building and business that contributed to the city’s boom between 1886 and 1892.

The bakery was later reborn as Willie’s Bakery with a slightly different spelling than the original family name.

Today, the building is owned Waddington Property Management Ltd., with a registered office in Prince Rupert.

Company directors Matt and Susan Ravlic could not be reached on Friday.

Shellie Gudgeon, owner of the adjacent Il Terrazzo Ristorante in Waddington Alley, said the current café owners, who are not the building’s owners, had a strong work ethic.

She said she has heard through her own staff that the café’s workers received two weeks’ severance pay.

Gudgeon owned 537Johnson St. and the business for about a decade, selling it to the Ravlics about 14 years ago. The restaurant space has had a number of operators.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com