KELOWNA - You’re not imagining it. Kelowna has seen a steady increase in the number of new restaurants opening their doors in the last few years.
Probably the most obvious example would be the gleaming new Cactus Club Cafe, soon to open right on the waterfront inside the Kelowna Yacht Club.
The extremely competitive restaurant sector, which historically has operated on razor-thin profit margins, has seen a number of would-be restauranteurs open their doors in the past couple of years.
But for every chain restaurant like Cactus Club there is a something like the Naked Cafe, a small eatery on Lawrence Avenue that quietly began serving vegan and vegetarian meals about six weeks ago.
“We opened this restaurant because there’s not really many vegan options in Kelowna,” Olivian Gordey says.
Gordey runs the restaurant with her sister Teghan. Both are committed vegans and say the specialized niche they are operating in has so far given them better-than-expected results, likely because it is underserved.
“It’s not just vegan and vegetarian, there’s also people with dietary restrictions and people with allergies,” Teghan adds.
Both will admit having a liquour license and a specially-engineered hookah lounge has helped break down some of the negative perceptions some people have of vegetarian meals.
The two sisters said the licensing process with the City of Kelowna was relatively painless, making the decision to dive into the unforgiving restaurant sector that much easier.
“We thought there’s no competition so let’s jump on it,” Olivia adds.
Statistics from the the bylaw department at the City of Kelowna, which licenses all restaurants, show evidence of a steady uptick in restaurant openings in all catagories, from 49 in 2012 to 57 each year in 2013 and 2014.
So far this year, 21 new licenses have been issued, putting it on pace to beat the last two years by a healthy margin.
What is less clear is how many of the restaurants stay open. Restaurants that close do not have to report it to the city, they simply don’t renew their operating license.
Tourism Kelowna does not keep record of restaurant openings and closings but communications manager Catherine Frechette says the trend, at least annecdotely, is upward.
“We’ve certainly noticed there seems to be more and more restaurants every year,” Frechette says. “I think that’s because Kelowna is making a name for itself as a real foodie destination, which would be part of the attraction for new restaurant ventures.”
Already known for its burgeoning wine scene, Frechette says the Okanagan as a whole is becoming known for being able to supply restaurants with a variety of ingredients for their menus.
“Chefs have access to this abundance of local product right in their backyard. That has to help,” she says.
Back at the Naked Cafe, the sisters say their outlook is good for the long term.
“We’ve been able to pay our bills entirely from what we bring in and we didn’t expect that,” says Olivia. “It’s been steady every day and we seem to be getting a few new people coming in all the time.”
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