Elk Lake Restaurant closing
Sep 08 2012
Connie and Hon Dere at their Elk Lake Restaurant, which they are closing after 30 years.Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist , Times Colonist
Three decades of working seven days a week are coming to an end on Monday when Connie and Hon Dere serve ice cream and hamburgers for the final time at their Elk Lake Restaurant.
That day also marks the end of that location as a well-known destination. Countless customers have stopped at the well-known eat-in and takeout restaurant on the Patricia Bay Highway. It was a restaurant long before the Deres purchased it. It has been sold to a fitness trainer.
“I’ll miss the people,” says Hon, 64. Connie, 61, said the restaurant is like home and it’s difficult to tell customers it is closing. “Most of them have become my friends,” Connie said, providing insight on why their business has survived.
Friends such as Les and Karen Ferriday, of Gordon Head, come in frequently. “They make good milkshakes” said Les. Karen loves the fish and chips.
Les has been coming to the restaurant, then under different ownership, since childhood. Later as an adult, he would ride his horse from the Arbutus area to the takeout window.
On his way out this week, Les hugged Connie, promising, “I’ll be here tomorrow.”
Another long-time friend Reg Mooney, former president of Goodwill Bottling, first met the Deres as customers and respects their work ethic. “They are wonderful people,” he said Friday.
Over the years, he has staged functions at the restaurant and says the Deres have been generous to the community.
Raised in Hong Kong, the Deres moved to Montreal in 1974 where Hon has relatives. The cold winters sent them west to Victoria two years later. They leased the Elk Lake spot in 1982, opening the following spring. Connie dates the small building of just over 1,000 square feet to 1942. When the Deres took over, the business was not operating. They followed a hamburger outlet that had closed down.
The Deres bought the property in 1988 with a federal business loan. Hon had dreamed of owning a business and loves the location because he can take long swims in the lake.
Connie laughs when recalling the opening day when she poured coffee for a customer for the first time. “My hand was shaking.” Her sister Louise Yun was on hand to help out and still comes in on weekends.
Through the years, the couple has worked together every day. They would close in December and January, sometimes longer depending on the weather. “I don’t say we made a million dollars. We raised two kids; paid the bills. That’s it. Nothing fancy,” Connie said.
Running the restaurant has always been about taking care of their family.
The restaurant business appealed to the Deres because their two sons could be with them. As they grew, their sons worked at the restaurant to help pay for university and each held a second job as well, Connie said.
Hon said, “We just wanted to make sure our boys had a nice future. That’s all we wish.”
Today, Steve is a software engineer in San Francisco and has a five-year-old son, the Deres’ first grandchild. Edward earned his PhD and is a medical researcher working at a hospital and university in Rhode Island.
Customers return year after year and bring their children, Connie said. The restaurant seats 40 indoors and has about a dozen seats outside. As well as a varied menu, the business has also rented canoes, kayaks and water bicycles, which Hon has hauled back and forth from the beach.
Regular customers include Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, who is part of a weekend walking group that ends its morning trek with a get-together at the restaurant. Leonard has twice used the restaurant as a campaign office.
Leonard likes and respects the Deres saying, “They are not afraid of hard work and long hours”
Hon is looking forward to spending more time with his grandson and with family in Montreal. Connie hasn’t mapped out any plans yet. They say they are grateful to customers and businesses who have supported them over the years.