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April 06, 2013

Restaurant Roulette on Salt Spring

It has been a bad couple of years for some restaurants on Salt Spring.

First the Fulford Inn closed its doors. I was still on island then, so, even though I know I should go out of my way to find out the exact date, I'm going to guess that it was some time in 2010. There were various rumours about what sent it over the cliff. Then, Raven Street Cafe turned off the oven. I loved their wood fired pizzas and the miso dressing was to die for on their salads. I also liked the quietude of the North side but quietude is not what lets restaurants thrive.  Marketplace Cafe packed it in. I have to admit, I never went there. Bruce's Kitchen shut its doors in March. Bruce left the island with no forwarding address. I'm so glad I lived on island when Bruce was cooking there, especially in the first place on Gastronomy or Gasoline alley as it's sometimes called. Now Mobys Oyster Bar and Marine Grill has locked the front door. On Facebook, there's the usual outpouring of dismay.

Well, if it mattered that much, why didn't you support us? Why didn't you come to eat? That's maybe what the restaurant owners are thinking. Just guessing.

Mark's Work Warehouse expanded and the complex where it was located meant ripping down some old buildings which meant some charming small businesses either chose to close, had to close, or shifted location. Then, after the big reno, Marks Work Wearhouse packed up its inventory in 2012 and got the heck off the rock as well. I don't have the scoop on what that was about but bad decision-making at play to say the least.

I celebrated my 50th birthday at Mobys and had some great memories. I recall Tal Bachman and his band. They were great and it was a fantastic evening. And then there's the domino effect. Moby's closure means one less venue for musicians. The loss of all of these means less B2B on island trade.

The first month I moved to the island, October 2008, I can still recall the delight I felt sitting in the front porch area of Raven Street Cafe on a really quiet Sunday afternoon,  savouring a glass of Merlot, and being serenaded by the clear crisp notes of a professional flutist who lived there for half the year.

I will never forget the practices for beginner band in the former Cafe El Zocalo owned by Wendy and Derrick Milton that they sold and then it transformed into the Marketplace Cafe. Eating out on island as far as I'm concerned is an absolute necessity, especially if you live alone. I had to get out of the cottage, see what was happening, bump into someone to talk to and eat food cooked by people who can cook way better than me. That's how it was in the winter, especially. I can only imagine the memories of those who have lived on island for a long, long time about all the restaurants that have come and gone.

On the positive side, there's a beautiful new library. If you want to read and hike and other more private activities, it's a great place. And, of course, there are still some great places left to eat: The Treehouse Cafe. Barb's Bakery and Bistro (Barb's Buns). Auntie Pesto's. Harbour House Hotel. Salt Spring Inn. Seaside Kitchen. Calvin's Bistro. House Piccolo. Rock Salt Cafe. Oyster Catcher. Hastings House.

Even when I first arrived on island, fewer American visitors had been the trend and being a vendor at the Market lets one track these things informally. Ferry prices keep going up. From Vancouver, it now costs $66.15 for a car and $17.85 for the driver, one way.

Add to all that the on-island demographics and opening a new restaurant on island makes about as much sense, financially, as oh, I don't know, selling photographs at the Saturday Market.

Is it just the usual shift, capitalism in action, or is it a more definite indicator of economic decline that slices away at the appeal of visiting Salt Spring? I have to think about the answer to that. What do you think?