An iconic Parksville restaurant has fallen victim to COVID-19.
Proprietor John St John has announced the British Bobby Restaurant, renowned for its fish and chips and other traditional British cuisine, will close on Feb. 13, 2021. A silent auction is underway for anyone wanting to bid on the restaurant’s movie memorabilia or other pieces of Parksville history.
St John said he hopes to make back some of the money invested into the business during the seven years he has owned it, having purchased it from a Canadian couple in 2013.
He said he would’ve liked to received more help from the provincial and federal governments during the pandemic and considers the latest health order enacted earlier this month as the “final dagger” in the restaurant’s back.
“COVID comes in and just pulls the rug out from underneath us. We have become another death due to COVID,” said St John.
The only “real money” he could anticipate making back is from the sale of the memorabilia and decorations. St John doesn’t believe he would “even make a penny back” if he were to attempt to sell kitchen appliances or dining furniture as “no one will be buying restaurant stuff anytime soon.”
The current lease is set to expire at the end of February, and previously St John’s son had plans to take over the business, but he can no longer allow “in good conscience” for his son to take on a “quarter-million-dollar debt for a five-year lease.”
St John said takeout orders have kept his business afloat but he did have to continually dip into savings as the months went on.
“We were always thinking ‘the next day is going to be OK’ and we were always looking down the road. But then two weeks turn into nine months.”
As operating costs are St John’s main concern, he says it can all add up to $25,000 a month, including expenses like heat, rent, power and wages. The British Bobby is capable of seating 75 patrons, but due to current COVID-19 restrictions, St John said they can only seat 33.
“We can no longer warrant the building for a restaurant that size. And it’s not looking any better.”
He initially purchased the British Bobby for approximately $150,000, spent $90,000 on modernizing the kitchen, then invested another $80,000 into developing the second half. In all, St John estimates it came to approximately $300,000.
“And now we can’t even give it away. We lost absolutely everything.”
This time last year, St John said he would’ve never believed this could happen, as he’s always considered British Bobby as a labour of love.
“Putting in 10 hours a day was something I loved to do,” he said.
Detailing the success his business has seen over the last eight years, St John attributes most of it to the fact that they only use quality ingredients for their authentic British dishes and that they’ve always taken pride in providing a “family atmosphere.”
“I bought it (British Bobby) not for the profit but for really a family business.”
Beyond February, he and his wife have “no idea” what’s next for thier family, or business aspirations, since he believes him and his wife are not the “retiring type.” If the future’s horizon looks different, St John said he would love to open another restaurant, once the pandemic has “settled down.” Customers have told him they’re prepared to come back, which makes him believe there “may be another British Bobby down the road.”
As for his silent auction, St John said he would have loved to held an in-person auction, but will instead host the silent one while gathering restrictions are still in place. Those who would like to partake can come to the restaurant, located at #3-1209 Island Highway East in Parksville, during business hours. St John intends to let winners know on Feb. 14 what they’ve won.