The 293 Wallace team prepares some of the final meals at the casual fine dining restaurant, which closed in September. Hope has seen at least three restaurants close within the past year. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard

Survival is dicey in Hope’s dining industry

Restaurant closures indicative of larger problem of seasonal industry

Three Hope restaurants have closed in Hope in the past six months, and while each have their own reasons to shut their doors, those involved in economic development in Hope point to common problems faced by all small service businesses.

Within six months, Hope has seen Eat Well Pizza and Indian Cuisine, Globe International Cuisine and 293 Wallace Restaurant shut their doors, all three establishments located along Wallace St. While some restaurants are permanently gone, others are up for sale, and those who work in economic development for Hope say the big problem is how to sustain these small businesses during the slow winter months.

For Major Randhawa, who ran Eat Well for just over one year, the challenge of running his establishment was two-fold: the commute was very difficult for the Surrey-based restaurant owner, and staff just kept slipping away after weeks or months in the job.

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Even with a good salary, Randhawa said the people working for him either left town or went into retirement, forcing him to continuously hire new people.

“We were really having a tough time to find workers. We hired some, but they did not stay. We were giving them a good salary, but even then we were not able to keep them. They would stay for two months, one month, two weeks,” he said. “It was really difficult to find good people.”

Randhawa, who still leases the location on Wallace St., said he is still interested in opening some kind of business there. But the challenge of a very busy summer season and a ‘terrible’ winter remains. While he said he could stretch the earnings from the summer through the winter if he lived in Hope, the commute in the winter weather was just too onerous.

For Hiro Takeda, who closed his 293 Wallace Restaurant at the end of September, the choice to close was not an economic one he assured. Rather, it was the right time for all of the staff and himself to move on to other endeavours outside of the restaurant which he owned and ran for five years.

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Both Patrick Earl, executive of AdvantageHOPE, and Stephen Yeung, Hope Chamber of Commerce president, agree that the larger scale problem for all of Hope’s small businesses is how to stay afloat during the winter when nearly all income is generated over a short summer season.

“The whole restaurant (issue) is only a small symptom of a bigger problem and…I keep saying, it’s been a problem for years,” Yeung said. “It’s up to the leadership of the community, with the council, with the Mayor, what are their visions? Make this community simply a bedroom community? Or do we just keep pushing on one element of our economic development or how much effort or how much focus are we putting into anything outside tourism?”

Yeung acknowledges that tourism is an important industry, and it’s an industry Earl is working on stretching from a four to five-month industry to one which brings in visitors year round. Earl has worked with Manning Park Resort to promote astro tourism, the visiting of places not affected by light pollution to view the wonders of the night sky. With the first Dark Sky Astronomy Weekend Oct. 12 to 14 selling out rooms at the resort, it looks to be an idea visitors are receptive to. Winter tourism and dark sky tourism up the Fraser Canyon are other ideas Earl is working on with AdvantageHOPE and the Hope Cascades and Canyon regional tourism marketing organization.

Yeung, who is also in the restaurant business as a franchisee of Hope’s McDonald’s for the past eight years, said a population base of just over 6,000 cannot support these smaller establishments year round. If the restaurant owners do not have very deep pockets, they end up using the money they gain during summer months to stay afloat in the winter rather than putting that money into expansion or upgrades.

Identifying the problem is easier than finding a solution.

For Yeung, it all comes down to local jobs. If jobs can be provided in Hope, those who go to Chilliwack and beyond to find full-time, year-round work will spend their dollars in town as opposed to what they now spend on groceries and experiences out of town.

“We need to have more industry or other types of industry in Hope, to dilute the whole seasonal swing,” he said. “We need businesses that have employees for 12 months income, so they will shop locally, they will dine in locally, to support the local business.”

Affordable housing for low-income people, as well as lower taxes for businesses interested in coming to Hope, are also ideas for solutions, Yeung said. Earl agrees that workforce housing is crucial.

Earl adds the closure of restaurants and other small businesses as a problem which is ‘rampant’ in all small towns across B.C. which don’t have a large ski resort or other major attraction.

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Other than marketing the low season, Earl said the work on attracting industry to Hope as well as encouraging residents of the town to support their local establishments continues.

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