The Jade Restaurant will close its doors in mid-July after a 35-year run.
The owners, Susanna Eng and her husband, Joe, has sold the restaurant to the city of Port Alberni as part of the city’s Dry Creek flood mitigation plans. All that remains to complete the deal is for Mayor Mike Ruttan to sign off on the purchase.
“I’m retiring so I sold it to the city,” Susanna Eng said. “It’s time to go.”
The Engs first got into the restaurant business when Joe’s family started working at a restaurant in Port Alberni in the 1950s.
The Engs took over that restaurant and ran it till they opened Jade on Third Avenue in 1980.
While Susanna said it was time for the Engs to retire, she wishes that the restaurant could go on. But since they’re selling to the city, who only want the land the restaurant is on so that they can remove the bridge directly adjacent to it and install a culvert underneath Third Avenue, the Engs are selling everything in the restaurant.
If she can’t get anyone to buy it then she’ll have to sell it to liquidators and she won’t get much for it.
“I really wish somebody in town could buy [the restaurant]. It’s not a lot of money and they can use it. We kept it in really good condition, even though it’s old.”
The building housing the Jade will be demolished as part of the city flood mitigation plans.
“They’re going to tear it down.”
The plans come as a result of the Dry Creek Flood Mitigation Study commissioned by the city in 2012.
Dry Creek runs underneath Third Avenue right beside Jade Restaurant, and has been subject to serious flooding in the past.
City engineer Guy Cicon said that about 32 metres of box culvert will need to be installed.
In total, the flood mitigation plans include 700 metres of creek construction, inlet and outlet modifications at Third and Fourth Avenues, 60 metres of water and sewage main installation at Third Avenue, rip rap installation on creek slopes and bed and the removal of utilities and building structures at the proposed creek crossings.
Cicon said while the floods in 2006-07 were a factor in pushing the project forward, “the project is designed on the one in 200-year storm event that we could expect in that area,” which is a building standard, he added.
Cicon added that the floods in December 2014 that were closer to the Redford and Third Avenue intersection rather than at the base of the Third Avenue hill, were caused by a different issue than Dry Creek’s configuration. The 2014 floods were caused by debris in the storm sewers.
“That sub-catchment area was affected by buildup of sediment in the pipes,” Cicon said.
“We’re going to remove the accumulated sediment. We have to do more maintenance on the lower reaches and the larger diameter pipes” to prevent more buildup, he added.
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(map courtesy of the city of Port Alberni)
A tender for the work was issued at the end of April and bids on the plan designed by Koers & Associates will be accepted until May 20.
The city’s acquisition of her land for flood mitigation comes as no surprise to Eng, who said she asked the city in the 1990s whether they needed her property back then. The city had already purchased the land beside her building where Dry Creek runs under Third Avenue.
“They should have done that a long time ago,” she said.
“We went and talked to the city and they told us no.”
She went to the city at the time on the advice of her brother, a civil engineer working in China.
“It’s a time bomb,” she said of the infrastructure surrounding the restaurant, which has often led to flooding.
“Underneath there’s a creek. If I see something happen, I feel really bad for that.”
While Eng could not disclose the selling price of the restaurant, she said it was significantly more than the city’s original asking price.
“I can’t do $130,000,” said Eng, she said, adding that despite understanding how necessary the flood mitigation work is, she couldn’t let the restaurant go for so little money.
“It’s not that much, I could ask for more. But I feel guilty because I know that it’s dangerous. Anything happens, I feel bad because I know. I have the knowledge and I told the city a long time ago but they think ‘oh you know nothing.’”
“It doesn’t matter if [the city] buys my property or not, you have to fix that for sure. It’s really dangerous, look at how many cars go over it.”
The price was agreed upon on March 31, Eng said, but city manager Ken Watson said that since the deal has yet to be signed, it remains in-camera.
Eng said that she’s had other offers to buy the restaurant but remains committed to her deal with the city.
Other than the Jade Restaurant, three other properties will be affected by the Dry Creek flood mitigation plans.
The city is purchasing a residential property just upstream of Fourth Avenue on the banks of Dry Creek.
The city is also leasing two properties downstream of Third Avenue, where channel improvements will be done. One is the empty lot immediately adjacent to Smitty’s Restaurant that is owned by Island Timberlands.
“Were going to need to lease a piece of that for encroachment onto it for the works,” said Watson.
The final property is “a linear lot that runs all the way along behind Smitty’s,” Watson said. That lot is owned by Western Forest Products.
The money will come from the city’s land sale reserve fund, said Watson.
According to director of finance Cathy Rothwell, the city has $650,000 in the land reserve fund for 2015.
“It wouldn’t be anywhere near that much,” Watson said.
Even though the Engs are ready to retire and the flood work is necessary, Eng said she’ll be sad to close down shop.
“We’ve been here a long time, we’re local people. We’ve been cooking in this town for a long time, we know everybody and they know us. People are sad to see us go because they want us to open a ‘little Jade’ just for takeout. They love our baking and cooking.”
But Eng says the couple aren’t interested.
“I used to make breakfast here for a long time, a homemade breakfast.”
In 1990, she stopped baking her own bread but continued to make ice cream and pie in house.
“People from all over the Island came here just to buy ice cream.”
In 1994, she renovated the restaurant and sold the ice cream machine.
She admits the town isn’t what it used to be. In the mill days, the Jade would be full of the sounds of workers enjoying their breaks.
“They come here, they eat and they come back to work,” she said, adding that their clubhouse sandwich was a particular favourite.
“Six o’clock in the morning here looked like evening. Packed, people fighting to get a seat, especially on pay day.”
Recent times have been a disappointment compared to the boom days gone by.
“The sad part in 1990s they downsized, laid off a lot of people, the plywood plant is gone.”
She doubts she’ll ever see those times again.
“I don’t think I’ll see that in this town anymore. No work. No work at all.”