It is one of Victoria’s most beloved institutions, and is to soft-serve ice cream what Butchart Gardens is to flowers.
“It’s an icon,” clarifies Vicki Ogren, 41, munching on a scrumptious chocolate-dip soft ice cream cone on a sunny afternoon at Beacon Drive-In, the popular restaurant at Douglas and Beacon streets, across from Beacon Hill Park.
“We had lunch at Canoe Club and came all the way down here to get our ice-cream facial,” adds smiling Julie Toogood, 35, Ogren’s Victoria General Hospital co-worker, who says her two young children will enjoy many cones here themselves.
The gal pals are among countless fans, locals and tourists alike, who have frequented the James Bay landmark where time has stood still since it was co-founded by Bill Pistol and former city councillor Bob McMillan in 1958. It helps that “Victoria’s soft ice cream headquarters,” as it’s known, is the only commercial business bordering the park, where food sales are prohibited.
The fast-food hangout is a place where births and deaths have been honoured, first dates have blossomed into romance and memories are as appealing as its homestyle breakfasts, burgers and sundaes in a multitude of flavours.
“I like the convenience. Where else are you going to find a place to bring your grandkids so close to Beacon Hill Park, so close to the ocean?” says David Heft, 66, during a visit with his daughter, Kerri Shaw, and her sons John, three, and Ryan, 13 months.
“I came here when I was his age,” grandpa recalls, pointing to John.
“As a kid I grew up in Vancouver, so when we came to Victoria, this was the place to come,” adds Saltspring Island-based Doreen Davidson, a regular customer since it opened.
Marge Fuhl, her friend visiting from Winnipeg, is intrigued by the drive-in’s popular Flavour Burst cones.
“You sure can’t get that in Winnipeg,” she says, laughing.
Even during the off-season, “there’s never no excitement going on” at the Beacon, says manager Janet Reynolds.
Reynolds, in her 10th year, now works for Peter Loubardeas, a Calgary-based restaurateur, who bought the restaurant with his father, Gus, eight years ago from the late Jim Douglas, who ran it since 1963. Douglas’s motto: “We don’t change.”
The clientele changes, however, with new generations picking up where others left off.
When winter sets in, Reynolds sees familiar faces who don’t come around much during the summer, returning for breakfast.
“We’ve lost a few good regulars who passed away,” she laments.
“It touches home when you become that close to them. You really get to know them. With so many old-folks homes around here, we’ve become a second home to many of them.”
Then there are those who move out of town and can’t wait to get back to the Beacon.
Take Brent Pearce, who left in 1990 to become a fashion photographer. Now a Toronto-based lawyer looking to move back, he returned to the Beacon’s outdoor patio recently with girlfriend Lisa Jeffery and Tiki, her shi-tzu, for some deep-fried oysters.
“It’s the only place on the planet I will eat oysters, and the only way that I will eat oysters,” he says.