Like so many birthdays right now, the 25th anniversary for the Atlas Cafe was kind of subdued.
It didn’t go unnoticed on social media though, as many supporters congratulated the restaurant on its success.
As well, if the doors to the fixture in downtown Courtenay haven’t fully reopened due to COVID-19, it did recently return to providing food service, like other restaurants, by focusing on takeout food with a limited menu for the meantime.
Co-owner Sandra Viney says the response to their return to business has been one of overwhelming support, as evidenced by the recent Mother’s Day service.
“I’m actually really quite emotional,” she says. “What comes with 25 years is 25 years of building community and relationships. It was just so heart-warming to see people wanting to support local businesses and their excitement, for them to see us re-open, even in this limited capacity was just so generous.”
In the 25 years, it’s been an evolution, and Viney credits feedback from customers for help with the menu. Often, this input meant some item on a fresh sheet would get moved up to the regular menu.
“It’s been a really collaborative exchange with our guests,” she says.
For now, the choices are limited. She says people have also been so understanding if things are, at this time, a little chaotic. The Atlas, like everybody else, is coping with doing business in a different climate with different rules.
“There’s learning curves, there’s timing issues, there’s new policies and procedures that we are implementing,” she says.
In some ways, the re-opening in a takeout format almost felt like a brand-new business plan.
The whole experience of re-opening for Viney was overwhelming, even down to the details of turning the lights on and smelling the aromas from the kitchen. It almost didn’t feel like work, Viney says, because for the staff it was a chance to have a little social interaction.
“We’re all missing that element,” she says.
If the restaurant doors have been closed to the public in recent months, things were happening behind the scenes, with some menu changes and some important cleaning and maintenance work.
Viney admits the shutdown did offer the Atlas Cafe a chance that restaurants rarely get, which was to really get in and give everything a good once-over. Other than a floor renovation in 2002, this was the first chance to re-do a number of things inside the restaurant.
“We were able to deep-clean all of the equipment, like the stoves,” she says. “That was an undertaking.”
The work included repairs to the bar floor and painting, and most of it happened over a couple of weeks.
“We pulled all the equipment off the walls, and up and out,” she says.
Viney is also active in the community through supporting schools and charities, as well as on food security issues through the Comox Valley Food Policy Council. The group only recently was established but had to respond to the pandemic challenge.
“When we established, little did we know our role would be put into such a front line mobilizing of services that were very much needed,” she say, adding she credits local and regional government for working with the council and LUSH Valley Food Action Society to help with food efforts.
This work is all a part of building the community, and that feeling of community, as was clear from the re-opening, flows both ways.
“People are very generous and very verbally demonstrative of their appreciation…. If they want these small businesses to survive, they have to show up,” she says.
For more information on the Atlas Cafe, see www.atlascafe.ca
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