‘Tough pill to swallow’: Bear & Joey latest Victoria eatery to close its doors

'Tough pill to swallow': Bear & Joey latest Victoria eatery to close its doors
File photo.

Bear & Joey is the latest eatery in Victoria to close its doors, and like many of the other establishments that faced the same fate, the owners say the “crippling effects” of COVID are to blame.

“This is our last weekend…thank you so much, we love you,” a staff member says in a voicemail greeting recorded prior to the closure, which was Sunday, May 5.

Owners Pete and Steph Wood took to Instagram earlier this month to announce the news, calling the social media post one “that every business owner fears they’ll have to make one day…” The brunch spot, located on Cook Street near Fort Street, shut its doors exactly four years after opening.

“We’ll spare the factors out of our control; the crippling effects of COVID on a new, unsupported business, the economy, the costs of well, everything, and instead take the opportunity to highlight and thank the many people who helped create our little hub of energy- those on both sides of the counter,” reads the post.

Owner Pete praises Victoria, saying the community “welcomed our concept and team with open arms, and the continued support has been overwhelming.” While he has owned four restaurants now, he says he’s “never witnessed such a kind, well-wishing community show so much love and support…”

He’s also thanking his staff, saying they’ve “been the fabric of Bear & Joey, and I’ve been so privileged to work alongside them for the past (four) years. They are our everything and have been so supportive, caring and creative at every turn.”

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Other restaurants in B.C.’s capital have recently closed or are about to.

In April, Smiths Pub on Courtney Street shuttered after 17 years in business, while Chorizo & Co. on Fort Street will host its last dinner service on May 18.

“Obviously this was not the way we hoped to go out, but things happen,” reads a post by Smiths Pub.

Fol Epi on Yates Street closed last May, and a statement noted that the owners had “stacked up a lot of debt getting through COVID.” That wasn’t long after neighbouring Agrius Restaurant shut down due to the “impact of inflation.”

Pete at Bear & Joey says operating a new restaurant over the past four years “has been, well, triage,” adding that there were “periods of thick, unrelenting darkness, tears of anguish, daily knots in my stomach, crippling self-doubt, all the while balanced with excitement and pure hospitality bliss.”

Speaking with CHEK News last year, BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association (BCRFA) president Ian Tostenson said new eateries were opening, but more were closing due to “severe labour shortages and high operating costs.”

In January, the BCRFA launched a campaign to raise awareness of the current challenges facing food service and hospitality businesses. The association was hoping for a range of policy changes from municipalities and the province, including streamlining approvals for patios and liquor licenses.

“When a popular restaurant closes, it is part of the community culture gone,” said Tostenson. “You then have people out of work, etc.”

Pete is sad to see Bear & Joey go.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow, knowing that if our timing was just a little better, and we got just a little bit of help during COVID, things would have been different,” he wrote. “Bit of a ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’ sort of deal I guess. I do find peace, in believing things happen for a reason, so I patiently await this light bulb moment…”

In 2021, Pete spoke with CHEK News and said he was pushing for federal financial support after opening at the start of the pandemic.

Now, amid the closure, he’s thanking patrons for the memories, saying he and his staff have watched families expand, kids grow, and people grieve the loss of loved ones.

“As a team, we’ve been invited into people’s daily lives, and view that as such an incredible privilege,” Pete added. “We’ve shared in people’s victories and helped shoulder tough times. The wonderful connections, and relationships we’ve made will continue, and be forever cherished, by our whole team.”

READ ALSO: ‘Break-even environment’: Save BC Restaurants campaign aims to help provinces restaurant industry

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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