Written by: Emma Jean, Staff Writer
Club Ilia, the restaurant on SFU’s UniverCity strip, has permanently closed. This comes after a year of forced closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its former location, the local pub chain BierCraft opened in early March.
In an interview with The Peak, Club Ilia’s owner Fred Soofi said the closure was “a little bit heartbreaking” and wouldn’t have happened without the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the restaurant’s inability to operate since March 2020.
“[When] I opened Club Ilia 10 years ago, I could see the future. I knew I could not make money right away, but I was looking for a future with community growth. Financially, I subsidized [the restaurant] all these years. I never made any money there. I was hoping that when the community [grew], [if] all the buildings are there, then I could make it,” Soofi said. He added that after waiting for 10 years, he closed for renovations in 2019 — but once COVID-19 forced the restaurant to close down, he lost his business.
He said he has no plans to reopen the location or any other restaurant under the Club Ilia brand. Instead, he plans to focus on his other restaurant on the SFU campus, Pasta Polo Express.
“I’m 70-years-old. I might do different things [ . . . ] At my age, I want to contribute to the community. If people want consultation for opening something, I’m willing to do that — but not [for] myself to be involved except in the MBC food court, which I want to concentrate on and make really outstanding.”
Soofi said many former Club Ilia employees have found steady employment elsewhere, some being able to remain in UniverCity, “I keep in touch with my staff to make sure they are good.”
The management of Club Ilia spoke last July to The Peak about the financial toll that the pandemic had taken on business. At the time, they wished to reopen for the Spring 2021 semester.
Soofi discussed having to finance up to a million dollars of his own money into the restaurant. He said he faced a drastic increase in the property’s rental leasing price and a lack of transparency about the foot traffic available in the area.
BierCraft assistant manager Courtney Cameron told The Peak the location had undergone a “construction” period. It has been open since March 2021 and has been redesigned with references to the SFU community in the decor and wall colours.
“It’s really important to us to connect to the school in that way, so having the ability to bring a bit of SFU into our restaurant and then also giving back to the school through sponsorships or live-streaming the sports games [ . . . ] one day down the line.”
Cameron, who is an SFU undergraduate student, stressed the connections they wish to make with the SFU community.
“When it comes to the school, a lot of our goals are to create some sort of sponsorship with clubs or associations or sports teams at SFU.”
Regarding its interactions with Club Ilia, they have been minimal. According to Cameron, they no longer have any role in the property and no former staff have been hired as part of the new restaurant.
“When it comes to the staff, I’ve had a lot of [former Club Ilia] staff come ask me if we’re hiring for front of house and back of house, but once the staff started reaching out to me, we already had our team built.
“I’m definitely not opposed to having past staff work with us,” she continued. “I think it would be beneficial because they’ve already created that connection to the guests and I’m sure it would be nice for the locals to see that familiar face, but I think it’s something that we will look into more as the business grows.”