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Vancouver Island restaurants opening amid troubled times

The kitchen of Victoria’s Ugly Duckling Dining and Provisions restaurant hums like a well oiled machine, even though it's only been open for a month.

Its owner, Corbin Mathany, is a chef who's always wanted to run his own restaurant.

“If not now, when?” he said Thursday, acknowledging the challenges of opening a new restaurant, especially now.

“I think you can always find an excuse to hold off and not pursue the dream."

Mathany is well aware of the labour shortage afflicting the industry, so he's paying staff a so-called thriving wage – at least $20 per hour – plus equally splitting tips between cooks and wait staff.

“It’s made a huge difference for us. We've had no trouble hiring,” said Mathany.

The restuarant's opening coincides with the high profile closing of others in the area, including Agrius, Cora and Oak Bay‘s The Marina Restaurant.

Inflation and labour shortages are among various headwinds hammering small businesses.

Jeff Bray with the Downtown Victoria Business Association says foot traffic is down with many people still working from home, and vacancies at retail spaces are higher than they’ve been in a decade.

“It’s up to 10.19 per cent. We're into double digits,” said Bray “There is a level of nervousness this year, where it was a level of optimism last year coming out of the pandemic.”

Mathany says despite the odds, he likes his chances.

“To bring a little magic into people's lives and delivering on our promises, I truly believe that our crowd will find us and stick with us,” he said.

In Nanaimo, Mod Pizza is also forging ahead despite the current business hurdles.

Its owner Andrew Smith says a few months in, the restaurant is thriving.

“It’s been fantastic, a lot of great community support,” said Smith Thursday.

He credits that early success with community engagement, including hosting fundraising events with non-profits, like schools.

“We’re about more than pizza. We want to make a difference in the lives of the communities that support us,” said Smith.

He’s confident that that support will stick around.

“In a few years, I see us still being here, still serving pizzas, and still trying to make a positive impact in our community,” he said.

Back at the Ugly Duckling, a dream is what opened their doors, and Mathany is optimistic that hard work in hard times will keep them open.

“I think we're on our way to swanship,” he said with a laugh. Top Stories

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