After close to 18 years in business, Cozy Bay Seafood Cafe will be closing its doors at the end of the summer.
Owners Pam Johnson and Michelle Stephen made the decision to close after their landlord told them he would not renew their lease.
The landlord phoned them in late May to tell them he had plans in the works for a new business to go into the location, and as a result would not renew Cozy Bay’s lease when it expired at the end of August.
Johnson and Stephen asked for a one-month extension so they could continue to operate throughout the summer tourist season.
They are puzzled by their landlord’s decision not to renew the lease, since the business has been thriving and successful for many years.
“Why us?” Stephen asked. “There are so many empty buildings in Summerland.”
Johnson added that the business, which has operated in that location since December, 2000, is operating efficiently and successfully.
“We’re so well-tuned as a crew,” she said. “We know how to run that business in that location.”
However, Brad Rauer, the owner of the building, said the terms of the lease required Johnson and Stephen to contact him by the end of February if they wished to renew the lease. This did not happen, he said.
“I honoured the lease that came with the property,” Rauer said. “I did what was legal and what was moral.”
He has plans to set up a nano-brewery in the building, providing light menu items and craft beer.
This will be a start-up local business, not a relocation of an existing business, he added.
A rezoning application to allow brewing and distilling as a site-specific use for the property will come before municipal council.
Rauer said Cozy Bay could relocate to any of a number of vacant spaces within the downtown area.
“There are other places they can go if they choose to do so,” he said.
But Johnson and Stephen said relocating Cozy Bay would be extremely difficult and expensive for them.
The summer months are their busiest time of the year and as a result, they do not have the time needed to make the necessary negotiations on a new restaurant location.
In addition, the costs of moving are prohibitive.
“We don’t have the financial means,” Johnson said. “We’ve already had to spend money to upgrade once.”
In early 2013, the restaurant was closed for several months following a flood.
Johnson and Stephen completed the extensive and costly repair work. This incident affected the restaurant.
However, if funding were received to cover the costs of a move, “we couldn’t say no,” Johnson added.
Near the beginning of this year, Johnson and Stephen listed the Cozy Bay business for sale as they were considering their options. However, they took the listing off the market within a couple of months.
The news of the closure has been difficult for staff and customers.
The restaurant has a base of regular customers from the community and region, as well as others who will travel to Summerland for the restaurant.
Johnson said families of some customers have even chosen to have celebration of life services at the restaurant.
Johnson and Stephen said their staff have been devastated by the news. The seven employees are like a family, they say. Some of the employees have even offered to work for them for free in order to complete the summer tourist season.
“That’s how close we’ve become,” Stephen said. “We’ve been very blessed.”
Customers have also been shocked by the news of the closure.
“Everybody’s really upset about this,” Johnson said.
Comments on the Cozy Bay Facebook page express disappointment with the decision.
“We need to keep this gem,” one commenter said. “Your shop will be missed with all your cheery faces,” said another. “Cozy Bay has been a wonderful place to go for incredibly great fish and chips,” another wrote.
In addition, a petition to Summerland council has been set up online at Change.org, asking that the proposed brewery not take over the Cozy Bay location. By late Tuesday morning, the petition had more than 200 names.
For the rest of the summer, the restaurant will be open Tuesday to Saturday. It will close its doors permanently at the end of business hours on Saturday, Sept. 1.