Diners in Courtenay are some of the luckiest anywhere on Vancouver Island, thanks to the recent amalgamation of one of the Island’s best restaurants with a landmark riverfront heritage home in the heart of the city. When Ronald and Tricia St. Pierre, owners of Locals Restaurant, signed the lease last winter to take over the city’s beloved Old House they took on a massive renovation job that required one huge leap of faith. Happily, the vision of the St. Pierres and the historic charm of the 1938 Arts and Crafts Kirk residence have combined to provide patrons with an experience that provides beauty in every respect – in the dining environment, and on the table.
Locals opened just over five years ago in a Courtenay strip mall, with the St. Pierres’ dream of working closely with local suppliers to provide fresh, seasonal offerings. Ronald’s culinary training in the classical European tradition and 30 years of working in some of the top restaurant kitchens in Canada brought the gastronomic ‘chops’ to the endeavour. Tricia’s superb eye for detail and design helped to convert the former Italian eatery in to a classy venue that proved to be a great showcase for the spectacular food coming out of the kitchen. While they knew that the strip mall location would be a stumbling block to some degree for them, it was what they could afford using only their own money.
I guess they were right on that count – when we were looking for a spot to celebrate a special occasion some years ago and Locals ‘in a strip mall’ was recommended, we opted for another place. It took us another year or so to actually walk through the doors of the original location, but after that there was no looking back.
“We had no backers, and we didn’t want any,” says Ronald. “Too often when others have money invested in a restaurant it becomes very difficult to remain true to your original vision.”
That original vision built to the point where not only was Locals thriving – so were their suppliers. Upwards of 12 local delivery trucks were pulling up to the doors every day, dropping off everything from fresh produce to locally-produced pasta, wine to coffee, cheese to meat. The St. Pierres’ dream was becoming a reality, much to the delight of everyone who dined at Locals.
The icing on the cake, though, is Locals’ ‘new’ home, a gracious, exceptionally beautiful old house originally designed as a residence, but since the 1970s home to a number of eatery ventures. Originally known simply as The Old House Restaurant, the place endured as a restaurant site (at some times more successfully than others) until 2010, when it was closed down and sat vacant. By the time the St. Pierres signed the lease in the winter of 2012 major work was required to bring the place back to life, and they have most certainly accomplished that!
The spectacular riverfront setting, extensive gardens, charming dining rooms, fireplaces, beautiful patio and rustic finishes have finally provided a truly fitting setting for the superb service and food that Locals has always been known for. Our recent visit to check out the new venue left us awe-struck and delighted – it exudes warmth and old-fashioned charisma, history and exceptional beauty. No doubt about it, Locals Restaurant at The Old House has raised the bar for fine dining on Vancouver Island.
Dining in Courtenay, BC