Sale of Paul’s Motor Inn could be ‘nail in coffin’ for Paul’s Diner

The B.C. government’s purchase of Paul’s Motor Inn to provide temporary housing for people without homes could spell the end of Paul’s Diner by Fol Epi at the same location.

Owner Clif Leir said he’s still assessing the impact of the sale on his restaurant, which was forced to shut down in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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“I fear this may be the nail in the coffin,” he said.

“We were just starting to work on a plan to re-open … and then finding out about this has been a real kick in the teeth.”

B.C. Housing has said it would like him to continue operating the organic-food diner. But Leir, who also owns Agrius Restaurant and the Fol Epi bakeries, said he still owes money on renovations that were done prior to opening the Paul’s location last summer. And, given the sale, he’s uncertain whether the business remains viable.

“We don’t know exactly how housing projects are going to affect a neighbourhood,” he said. “Sometimes, they can be positive and then integrate really well, but sometimes not, too. So it’s a big risk and we already have our neck out pretty far.

“I’m already seeing comments on it [and] definitely the perception is people don’t want to go to that area. So regardless of how it plays out and how well it’s managed and how well we’re able to do things there, there’s already definitely a stigma, which is just another obstacle in trying to open up a restaurant in a difficult time.”

B.C. Housing bought the 75-room motel for $15 million to temporarily house people without homes during the pandemic, and plans to re-develop the 1.3-acre site for affordable housing in the future. An operator has yet to be selected to manage the property.

The motel’s former owner, Paul’s Restaurant Ltd., also owns the Inn at Laurel Point, which was forced to close temporarily due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ian Powell, the company’s managing director, said the pandemic was a key factor in deciding to accept the government’s offer.

“These are going to be — to use the over-used euphemism — interesting times in the hospitality world for the next couple of years, at least,” he said. “And the directors basically thought it was too good an opportunity to miss to make sure the main asset in the company — the Laurel Point — was protected for the long haul.”

Powell said the sale was a “good fit” since B.C. Housing needed places to put people and the company was looking for a way to secure its future.

“I have to admit, two months ago it would not have been on our brains, but then two or three months ago neither was a worldwide pandemic and all that entails in the hospitality world, where the movement of people is sort of important to make it work.”

He described the sale as a “very good, fair, honest deal” that will help see the company through turbulent times.

Most of the motor inn’s 15 employees will continue working for B.C. Housing, at least in the short term, he said. “But we also made sure that we severed with them in a thoughtful and ethical manner.”

The Inn at Laurel Point is accepting reservations and preparing to open toward the end of the month.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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