Restaurant owner taps into connection with family history

Kate Phoenix opened Beach House Restaurant in same location her parents danced the night away

Kate Phoenix stands behind the bar of the Beach House Restaurant in Cordova Bay she started in 2010.

Kate Phoenix has a soft spot for old things and thrives on being busy. Her current business – the Beach House Restaurant – combines both.

This casual dining restaurant sits in the heart of Cordova Bay, a string of homes and businesses along the Pacific shoreline facing San Juan Island in the United States.

The décor is modern, the atmosphere relaxed and the views stunning, as the restaurant overlooks the local beach.

An air of tranquility, only broken by the clinking of glasses in the background, has settled across the main dining room floor.

As the afternoon passes the sounds from the kitchen grow louder as staff prepare for the arrival of the evening crowd, now just a couple of hours away.

Phoenix appears unfazed, seemingly used to everything.

“My first job when I moved to Victoria in 1984 was to work at the Willows Galley fish and chip shop …in Oak Bay,” she says. “I worked through the Tea Party weekend and it was so busy – lineups around the corner and people out the door, us running out of food and just grinding out the orders. And I have always just enjoyed things being busy.”

She applied the same attitude to Rogers Chocolates, the famed chocolatier on Government Street, where she started as a three-month contractor in the mail-order department and left as vice-president of marketing and sales 15 years later.

That part of her career helped Phoenix develop an appreciation of local history.

“There are so many interesting things about Victoria, and Cordova Bay is an interesting part of that,” she says. “I think old things are interesting and I’d love to fix them up, take care of them.”

One property that caught her attention was the combined restaurant and ballroom that locals in Cordova Bay colloquially called “McMorran’s.”

With some help from her family, she purchased and renovated the property. Open 350 days a year, the restaurant and its staff of 70 bring in almost $4 million in sales per year.

For Phoenix, however, the Beach House Restaurant is more than just a commercial ambition in the competitive here and now of the culinary industry.

It is also repository of memories mingled with the collective history of a community that looks towards a bright future.

Kate and her sister Joan were born to Albert and Dora (nee Steven) Hennesy.

Their courtship would take them to Cordova Bay, where they danced on the very floor that now serves as the tableau of the main dining room.

“McMorran’s on Saturday night,” writes a local history, “was the most romantic spot in town, especially when they would turn down the house lights and let the moonlight flood in.”

Whatever the ambiance might have been, it worked for Albert and Dora, who remained married for 63 years until Albert’s passing in 2011.

While they spent most of their time in Edmonton, they eventually returned to Victoria, where life would return them to the romantic geography of their past.

This moment occurred in 2010, when Phoenix told them she was going to buy “McMorran’s” from the surviving family members, a move that bore risk.

Nearly a century old, the “cobbled together” building as Phoenix describes it, had fallen into disuse and disrepair. But she saw an opportunity to “do something that would be pretty” and took it. “I just wanted it to be what it has become,” she says. “I am really proud of it.”

Renovations uncovered a dusty, empty whiskey bottle underneath the roof.

“It was from the 1940s and reminded me of my father, who was very fond of rye whisky,” she says. “He died during the construction process, so we put the dusty old bottle in the belly of the fish sculpture over the bar and called it Albert.”

Her mom, meanwhile, is also a regular “and very pleased with everything.” In fact, she spun across the dance floor on the occasion of her 90th birthday last June, as the music of the late Dal Richard and his eponymous big band paid perhaps one final tribute to a period now slipping away.

But for all of her historical roots, Phoenix has her eyes firmly fixed on the future, a future defined by culinary diversity and increasingly sophisticated tastes.

“People are open to trying new things, but they are very pointed in their criticism at the same time,” she says. “They have very strong opinions. We are all watching the Food Channel.”

The Beach House Restaurant has helped revive the area, and as Phoenix looks forward to what lies ahead, she draws inspiration from her young staff.

“When you deal with…the young people in the restaurant business, they are full of optimism and hope and energy,” she says. “And they believe that you can do things and they want to try. That’s a big inspiration, at least for me – how excited the kids are and how hard they work to overcome criticisms and problems and make things better.”

And perhaps some of them will meet just like Phoenix’s parents did and continue to keep their memories alive.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Colwood man to ride 400 kilometres to fight kids cancer

Man riding for a beloved family member who died from leukemia at 13-years-old

Saanich woman completes 10 marathons, raises double her initial goal amount

Over $20,000 raised for Victoria Hospitals Foundation

UPDATED: Missing 25-year-old Saanich woman found Saturday

Yuhan Jin thought to be travelling by foot or bus, carrying two suitcases

Peninsula businesses launch amidst COVID-19

New music school, martial arts studio, pet food store, welcomed with warm community response

Victoria program helps businesses shift swiftly in wake of COVID-19

Bring Back Victoria helps businesses open patios, create welcoming, safe spaces for customers

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Travel restrictions inspiring co-operation in border communities

Small border towns are asking for exemption to travel ban

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

Woman arrested near Nanaimo beach after alleged road rage incidents

37-year-old woman facing charges including assault, assaulting a police officer, impaired driving

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Health officials say indoor dining presents a higher risk

Raptors kneel for both American and Canadian anthems ahead of tipoff

Majority of players have substituted their names on the backs of their jerseys with racial and social justice messages

Most Read