Tracy Holmes photo Belle’s general manager Cindy Ivison (right) with longtime staffer Esther Pol.

‘Right time’ for South Surrey café renovations

Belle’s Café in Elgin Corners to close at end of Friday, till Feb. 25

After 20 years, a longtime South Surrey business is closing its doors this week.

But the absence of Belle’s Cafe as a go-to place for morning coffee or lunch will not be forever, general manager Cindy Ivison promises.

It’s a 10-day hiatus that will mark the end of a 13-month effort to transform the business into something bigger, yet cozier, that offers all the same ambience regulars have returned for time and again over the years – despite the building having no heat during winter or air conditioning in summer – plus more.

“I’ve been kind of dreaming about this and thinking about this for a long time,” Ivison said Monday of renovations to the former home of Belle’s restaurant.

“We needed it to be the right time.”

Connected to the Elgin-neighbourhood café on its east and north sides, the long-idle restaurant space at 14032 32 Ave. is to reopen Feb. 25 with a deli, a dedicated retail section, a meeting room with patio access, a kitchen area where Ivison envisions eventually hosting cooking classes and the like, a greatly expanded seating area and a full commercial kitchen.

“We want to do more,” Ivison said. “But out of this space, I can’t.

“We’ve got a full commercial kitchen next door. Here, I’ve got a five-burner gas stove. The place is just kind of holding together.”

Belle’s marked 20 years in the community last month, but Ivison noted the original building has a much longer – and perhaps somewhat storied – history.

“This building has been here for 70 years at least,” she said. “It was always a corner store. I believe the original family lived in half of it.

“The rumour is, there was a couple of bikers that owned it (at one point). Some people say it was a drug front. I don’t think it was a drug front.”

Black-and-white photos from the 1950s – shared with Ivison by the original owners’ granddaughter – show the flat-roof structure with wooden siding, four steps to the door and advertising for groceries and confectionery.

Today, the flat roof remains, but it’s backdropped to the east by the peaked roof of the much newer and larger restaurant space, which has sat empty for much of the past six years.

Ivison said the business sold everything from produce and knick-knacks to groceries and flowers over the years, before finding its current, distinctly food-related focus.

Still, “it’s hard to describe what we are,” she said, noting a display of greeting cards that sits to the left of the till, a freezer of take-home food options and a handful of dark-wood seating areas.

The tables and chairs will be moving to the new space, she noted, joining a farmhouse-style table that was donated by a regular customer. A church pew that sat outside Belle’s for a time has been returned as an interior fixture, she added.

Ivison’s own history with Belle’s dates back 10 years, and follows a decade of work and travel that got its start at the Wickanninish Inn on Vancouver Island and took her to venues throughout the Lower Mainland.

Belle’s, she said, “is the longest I’ve been at anywhere.”

“I love this,” she added. “It’s home to me.”

Features she hopes will make the new Belle’s feel like home for customers include a drawer that kids can root through to find a book or toy to play with, games such as chess and backgammon for more discerning diners, the restaurant’s original fireplace and a community board where events like last year’s ‘Save the Bunnies Day’ can be posted.

Heat and air-conditioning are much-anticipated benefits of the new space, she laughed, and longtime staffer Esther Pol agreed.

“My biggest one is air conditioning in the summer,” said Pol.

Pol predicted the changes as a whole are “going to be wonderful.”

“Very exciting.”

No matter what, said Ivison, “it’s still Belle’s.”

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Esther Pol serves Brian Carse, one of Belle’s regulars, Monday. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Belle’s general manager Cindy Ivison stands by the display kitchen in the renovated restaurant space. (Tracy Holmes photo)

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