The two Lefty’s Fresh Food restaurants in Parksville and Qualicum Beach are all about the customers, or guests as they like to call them.
“If you’re going to invite someone over for food you’d better treat them right,” said Joan Smith-Hodgson, the last of the three founders.
The Qualicum Beach location, which Joan runs, is marking 17 years and the Parksville restaurant her husband Robert runs, was started a couple years later.
Looking for a business, the trio found an existing restaurant in Qualicum Beach and brought in their love of fresh food and the friendly atmosphere.
“It’s like the Cheers thing, a place where everybody knows your name, or at least we try,” Smith-Hodgson said.
Almost as famous in the local area as the restaurant itself is the story of their name.
As explained on their website: “The three friends went to see the accountant to crunch the numbers. One remarked that the accountant, taking notes, was left-handed as she was. The other two, in a moment of surprise, realized that they too were lefties. They realized that here a synchronous moment in space-time was unfolding: here among the world’s ocean of right-handers was a sea of lefties!”
Aside from the three of them and their accountant, the coincidences continued, with seemingly everyone involved turning out to be a lefty, including the bank manager, real estate agent and bagel supplier.
They figured the left-handed writing was on the wall and have never looked back, establishing their “left coast” restaurant.
In the tourist-driven economy of the region, Smith-Hodgson said about two thirds of their business in the summer are tourists, but the year-round regulars are equally important, keeping them going the rest of the year.
She adds that satisfied locals are also crucial for the word of mouth that brings the tourists in.
While Smith-Hodgson said they have felt stagnation in the Qualicum Beach economy in the last five years, she said the tourists just keep coming, while the Parksville location continues to increase sales every year.
“I’d love to see Qualicum Beach more prosperous — we need some growth to replace the older demographic,” she said, adding she’d love to see a better demographic spread, with more young families that stick around while many of their good older customers head south in the winter.
“Competition is good in the restaurant business,” she said. “The more restaurants around the better. It keeps people here and gives them options rather than going into Nanaimo or wherever.”
Planning many more years of success, Smith-Hodgson said they are proud of the business they have built, their great customers and the things like their focus on recycling and re-using, which have cut their garbage down 90 per cent.