Cravings to remain constant

Employees band together to save struggling eatery

Customers of Cravings have been dispirited of late.

"'I guess this is the last time I'll get to go to Cravings,'" Lena Clayton said she's heard repeatedly.

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But Clayton has good news for fans of the restaurant that's located behind the Coast Vancouver Airport Hotel in Marpole. She's part of a trio that banded together to save the struggling restaurant.

Clayton, her partner Hugh Kendall, who she met serving at Cravings two years ago, and his longtime friend and chef Armin Jiwani bought Cravings last month.

"When I first moved to Vancouver, I moved to Mar-pole and Cravings always had a little bit of a special place, I guess, in my heart. It was a really nice, friendly local restaurant. All the regular customers made a point to learn my name before I had a chance to learn theirs. We have a lot of loyal staff who've been working here up to 14 years," Clayton said. "It was important for us to preserve this little local gem that we have, and for the neighbourhood as well, there's nothing really else like it."

Angelo Khoshaba, Cravings' former owner of nearly 22 years, told the Courier in July that higher property taxes, increased operating costs, increases in minimum wage and the addition of a new statutory holiday had taken a toll on his business.

He said the restaurant needed "younger, more energetic" owners.

So Clayton, Kendall and Ji-wani decided to realize their dreams of owning a restaurant earlier than anticipated. The three who are in their 20s pooled their savings and loans from friends and family and bought the business.

"My field of studies is in biology and I was kind of planning on having a regular-person job until I could afford to buy a restaurant," said Clayton, who only needs three more classes to complete her bachelor's degree.

"It was a big relief for [Khoshaba], as well, that he could keep it in the family, in a sense, and give it to his staff and he's been very helpful with the transition," she added.

Cravings' previous chef has moved on to catering and Jiwani is proceeding slowly with minor changes to the menu. Clayton said they've dropped items such as empañadas in favour of a tighter focus on elegant, sustainable and unpretentious West Coast comfort food.

The three owners are shouldering multiple roles and responsibilities to cut costs.

"We finally all had our first day off when we closed for Thanksgiving Day," Clayton said. "Right now we're working overtime to try and compensate for the increasing costs for us. We don't want to pass that on to our customers."

crossi@vancourier.com Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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