- Our Town
Coming, going and growing in the Cove
Islanders happily gobbled up crèpes and waffles of both sweet and savory varieties at the newly opened Bistro Rustique in Snug Cove. As the restaurant is filling the space left open by the departure of Leftbank, it does not exactly count as a new addition. However, it is part of what appears to be a changing landscape in the lower part of Snug Cove.
Miksa is not going anywhere, but is going up for sale as its owner, Mike Nagy, prepares to open up a new restaurant on Alberni Street in Vancouver. The new restaurant will be called Nagy’s House, and Mike will co-own it with his brother, Paul.
“It’s been an amazing five years,” says Jazzmin Nagy, Mike’s wife and also sidekick in the operation of Miksa. “We are so grateful to have had the chance to contribute to Bowen, and appreciate all the customers who have supported us over the years.”
Nagy says the move to Vancouver has always been part of the couple’s long-term plan, but they are also excited about the business opportunities on the mainland.
“We are still sorting out some details about our new location,” says Nagy. “But it looks as though our rent downtown will be comparable to what we’ve been paying in the Cove during the high season. We look forward to not being dependent on the business that comes from tourists in the summer time, and the ease of sourcing different kinds of food that are a struggle to get on Bowen, and of course, not having to cope with the ferry costs.”
On top of the cost of rent, any improvements that needed to be made to the restaurant had to be paid for by the Miksa owners.
“Making changes was also frustratingly slow at times,” says Nagy. “It took us three months to turn the parking spots in front of the restaurant into a patio, and without that patio, I can’t say for sure we would’ve made enough money to get through the winter months. Also, we were shut down for two weeks when we first put up the terrace posts out there. We never got the permit the Municipality wanted us to get for that, but people were so mad that we were shut down, that we were allowed to open up again.”
Nagy also says she is looking forward to stepping back from the restaurant business and pursuing her own career in the midwifery field.
“I see a family taking over Miksa,” she says. “I think that’s the way to make a business like this work on Bowen, if you’ve got a couple, both of whom are devoted to the business because they want to make life work on the Island.”
Nagy says that despite the challenges of running a business on Bowen, when they had the business assessed and added up all the numbers Miksa did better than expected. The restaurant is going up for sale and whoever buys it will be able to turn the key and start making money right away. Until the sale is made, Mike Nagy will continue to run Miksa while starting up the new restaurant.
The Mohrbach/Boyer family, who own Bistro Rustique, fit Jazzmin Nagy’s profile of successful restauranteurs on Bowen Island. The family moved to Bowen five years ago.
“We really wanted to own our own business,” says Celine Boyer, “and we wanted to do it here on Bowen. We love it here, and our kids love going to BICS and none of us want to move.”
Last year, Celine’s husband Thierry Mohrbach tried to get permission to set up a food truck that would serve Belgian waffles close to the upper part of the ferry line-up, but the plan did not get Council’s approval as Bowen’s bylaws do not permit mobile food vendors.
“After that, we had to move on,” says Boyer. “We knew Rebecca [Dawson, owner of Leftbank] and when she told us she was leaving we saw this as the perfect opportunity. We’ve always liked this space and feel good about our plans. I’ll be available to work at the restaurant when the kids are at school, and we have really great help for the late afternoon and evening hours.”
Piers Hayes from The Snug Cafe and his new chef from England, Allen, walked down to Bistro Rustique with flowers and a card to welcome Thierry Mohrbach to the neighbourhood on opening day.
“Its nice to see them go in there,” says Hayes. “Their food is really different from ours. I think, when it comes to the restaurants in the lower Cove we are all competitive, but we get along.”
Like Miksa, Hayes says his business feels the pressure of high rents and a drop in clientele in the winter months.
“When you’re paying $60 thousand a year in rent, it is really tough to come out with 10 percent more at the end of the year,” says Hayes, who says he would like to buy the building that houses The Snug, but is not in a rush. “I think we are all really suffering here from inflated real estate and land values. There’s a vacant lot next door up for sale for $400 thousand. If you look at that cost and crunch the numbers, you’ll see things just don’t add up.”
Hayes says the difference in business between the peak season and the slowest times, in January and February, is up to 300 percent, but he does not believe that increasing tourism to Bowen will change that.
“Instead of searching for the fickle tourists, and don’t get me wrong we love the tourists,” he says, “We should be looking for 100 new households. The island would not be overcrowded by any stretch, but that would make all the difference when it comes to stabilizing business here.”
Despite the difficulties and tight profit margins, Hayes remains optimistic about Bowen and the Cove.
“You see what the Bellringers are doing with the expansion of village square, and I think that just might be the beginning of a domino effect of positive change,” he says. “Sometimes things just take a little longer than you think they should. As my brother said - this place is a jewel, it just hasn’t been discovered yet.”
Glenn Cormier, who owns the Bowen Island Pub is equally optimistic about the Cove the business opportunities that exist in it.
“I’ve run a number of establishments in Vancouver, and I would never run a business there again. Here on Bowen there is such a devoted clientele that actually want to see you succeed. They are loyal and they want to see you succeed, even if you mess up on occasion. I remember, when I ran a wine and tapas bar in Yaletown I’d have people walk out of there raving about the food - but I’d never see those people again.”
Cormier acknowledges that the high price of rent can be a serious burden for small businesses in the Cove, but sees that changing as the area is developed.
“A lot of these buildings have single uses, but if they could be built up a bit that could really help the rent come down. If you go out there you’ll see that half the Cove is for sale. I’m thinking that will bring in not only new money, but also new energy and vision, and then we’ll see a transformation, I also think our current council is on board with that.
While Cormier acknowledges that major changes don’t happen overnight, he believes smaller changes can make a big difference.
“I’ve had a lot of feedback on my decision to paint the pub,” says Cormier, “and not all of it has been good feedback, but anyway, people have noticed. I think that small things, like a paint job or putting up flower boxes, that’s a really great start. It’s up to the private sector to get the ball rolling, and the merchants in the Cove have been getting together to talk about these things, we need to work together, and to remind each other that we can’t just hide in our shops wait for someone else to come along and do the work we’ll all benefit from.”