Victoria’s Sonora Bar and Grill closes to make way for something new

Victoria's Sonora Bar and Grill closes to make way for something new
Photo: OpenTable
Sonora Bar and Grill is seen in this file photo.

The owners of Sonora Bar and Grill are changing their ways, saying economic woes in the aftermath of the pandemic have forced them to renovate.

The downtown Victoria eatery at 531 Yates St. is now closed as the owners make way for Medusa’s Shot House, which will host a soft opening this week.

“We decided to close Sonora Bar and Grill because we have an idea to bring a shot bar. So we are doing some renovations and opening this Thursday,” said Gabriela Zendejas, who owns the business alongside Joe Aguilar.

The pair moved to B.C.’s capital in 2017 and operated Sonora Bar and Grill, a Mexican restaurant, since December 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

Prior to Sonora, known for its “Mexican fusion cuisine” and dance nights, the space was home to Hawk & Hen restaurant.

Zendejas says they’re “trying to reach more people, not only the Latin community,” adding, “We were really, really focused on the Latin community, so we want to expand. During the pandemic, we had all kinds of customers, but after that, we only had the Latin community.”

She says it hasn’t been easy to run a restaurant, especially amid COVID protocols that forced such businesses to temporarily change how they operate.

“Downtown has been hit very, very hard during and after the pandemic. I know that many owners are complaining about the parking expenses,” explained Zendejas.

“I think downtown, in general, has been hit because of the parking prices and inflation and everything. Many of us are not having an easy time.”

Other downtown eateries have permanently closed in recent months, including Smiths Pub on Courtney Street and Chorizo & Co. on Fort Street.

Bear & Joey’s closure was announced in early May when the owners of the Cook Street brunch spot said the “crippling effects” of COVID were to blame.

Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association (BCRFA), told CHEK News in a previous interview that more eateries were closing than opening due to a “severe” shortage of workers and “high” operating costs.

The BCRFA even launched a campaign earlier this year to raise awareness about the challenges facing food and hospitality businesses.

While not a restaurant, the owners of Baggins Shoes on Johnson Street say they’re closing their decades-old retail shop this fall due in part to a decrease in foot traffic.

“The cost of doing business downtown financially is outweighing the benefits in some ways,” said Baggins’ co-owner Tara Savrtka.

The Downtown Victoria Business Improvement Association’s 2023 report noted the area’s 2022 pedestrian traffic reached 80 per cent of the 2019 counts, peaking at just under 1.2 million people in July. It said customer perceptions, downtown driveability, and business property taxes were the top three negative impacts.

“We have to renovate or die, that’s the thing,” said Zendejas.

“So we decided to continue the business for a living instead of shutting down, like many other businesses.”

“Many of them decided to sell their business and finish, but we are trying to hold down the fort for our family.”

Debunking rumours

Zendejas is also responding to online rumours, including a recent Reddit post claiming the owners of Sonora had filed for bankruptcy and “fled the country back to Mexico.”

She says this isn’t true, adding in the interview, “I guess people have nothing better to do, I don’t know. I don’t know what to say about that.”

Now, she’s optimistic about the future and says people can visit Medusa’s on social media for more information.

“We will have 150 different kinds of shots. We will have some cocktails, appies, but the core of the business will be shots,” added Zendejas.

Operating hours will be announced soon.

READ ALSO: Increased Victoria parking fines take effect June 1

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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