Written by: Paige Riding, News Writer
Club Ilia has closed its doors amid the COVID-19 pandemic, not offering takeout or delivery. Despite rumours spreading on social media about the UniverCity bar-and-grill permanently closing, owner and chef Fred Soofi said in a phone interview with The Peak that this is not the case.
As of now, Soofi predicts the restaurant to reopen in January 2021.
“I don’t really know. But the [earliest] is January. There are no staff, no classes until January. So that’s for sure.”
Before opening Club Ilia, Soofi opened an organic pasta restaurant called Pasta Polo in Coquitlam. Around 11 years ago, Soofi was approached by individuals representing SFU after they ate at Pasta Polo.
“The people who were in charge, they were visiting my restaurant,” Soofi began. “They knew how good I was doing, and they said this is really good for SFU, for UniverCity.” Soofi noted that they wanted an independent business versus a chain to open on the campus.
Soofi said he spent up to $1 million to open Club Ilia in UniverCity, a neighbourhood described by the SFU trustees as a growing, busy area.
“But it wasn’t what they told me. The community wasn’t growing, they were very slow growing it,” Soofi said. Due to this, Soofi was subsidizing the restaurant out of his own pocket. This did not stop him from looking forward to a brighter future for the spot, though. When UniverCity finally started building the condominiums and other developments, what Soofi was met with was not increased traffic. It was the idea of something much more expensive.
“They said to me, your rent is going to be four times higher. I said ‘what?’ I mean, it can’t be possible. For 10 years I waited here!
“I have so much support at SFU, at the community [ . . . ] I’m here for the community.”
After discussing with SFU, Soofi noted that they were able to reach an agreement on a lease price.
General Manager of Macdonald Property Management Nick Marini provided an email statement to The Peak regarding Club Ilia’s leasing.
“We work diligently with all of our merchants including Club Ilia to ensure that their lease terms are a strong foundation for their long term success,” the email began. “I can’t comment on the rental rates for any specific tenant, however the current retail rents at the property that we manage and lease for SFU Community Trust are in line with the market conditions of the local trading area.
“Over the past decade the growing demand for services due to the constant growth of the overall population at SFU and Burnaby Mountain has resulted in higher rental rates but not at the level of other urban locations in Metro Vancouver [ . . . ] the net rental rates at Cornerstone Building have increased in the modest range of 2 to 3% per annum over the same period,” said Marini.
Once this decision was reached in mid 2019, Soofi again closed Club Ilia for two months to renovate. After they reopened for a while, they were again forced to close due to the pandemic.
“It had a big effect on my business side, very big one.”
Soofi noted that while his other restaurant, Pasta Polo, is open in Coquitlam for takeout at the moment, this is not so easy to do with a restaurant so dependent on the student body to make ends meet.
“It’s a big restaurant. You have to pay for power, for insurance, you have to have the staff. You know, it just doesn’t make sense.”