In Newton. And proud of it.

NEWTON TOWN CENTRE – Philip Aguirre’s family has operated their Old Surrey Restaurant in Newton for 40 years, and he’s darn proud to say that.


Before he took the reins eight years ago, his parents ran the French fine dining eatery, which has thrived in a revitalized heritage home originally built in 1918.


The family runs a Chilliwack farm where they produce all of their lamb, veal and pork, making themselves a true farm-toplate establishment.


Located along 72nd Avenue just west of King George Boulevard, the business is just mere blocks away from the Newton Arena, where 53-year-old Julie Paskall was attacked on Dec. 29 before dying days later.


While that incident has cast a dark shadow on the area, Aguirre is proud to run his business there.


"There’s lots of great things that are happening here and Surrey seems to get always the worst rap for sure. It seems to be a popular topic and rightfully so a lot of the times, but there’s also some great things that are going on in Newton."


When asked what he loved most about the community, without hesitation he said the people.


"With 40 years we’ve developed relationships with people that live here. It’s gone over four decades and just their stories of where they live, what they do, where they go on vacations and how they support their community."


While the restaurant pulls from the entire Lower Mainland’s population, he said Surrey residents have kept the business alive all these years.


Aguirre is a member of the Newton Business Improvement Association, still in its infancy, and hopes that by uniting, the businesses can have a strong voice.


"We just need to band together, as we always do, and keep on striving to become better. There’s always setbacks, so we just have to keep on pushing forward, and not isolating ourselves, being strong together," he said. "We have become individuals and as individuals we’re quite weak."


Aguirre emphasized his support for the Welcome Home Society, a drug and alcohol recovery home along King George Boulevard.


"They’re making huge investments to make a difference…. They’re going out and putting up a huge amount of effort to rehabilitate people and that’s a great thing," he said, adding that he couldn’t comment on the value of other operations.


Growing up in Newton, Aguirre witnessed the area’s changes first-hand.


He’s seen a lot of growth, which comes with positives and negatives, he said.


"A lot more crime, for sure. We’ve been broken into 11 times in the last eight years and that’s been difficult to handle as a small business owner. The margins are always tight and we’re always struggling to make a go of it and crime definitely makes it more difficult."


Aguirre recalled riding his bike to the Newton Wave Pool as a child.


"Now, would I let my young boys do that? No," he said, adding that he’d like to see the core revitalized.


"Does it need to be cleaned up a little bit? Yes. But does it have all the aspects of a great community centre? Yes. The wave pool is there, the library, the hockey rink, the bus loop – that’s where everyone congregates. And that’s where we need to focus a lot of our energies to make sure that people are safe there."


The restaurant was set to hold its 40th anniversary celebration last Sunday and Aguirre said he is in Newton for the long haul. In fact, in 2012, he created a secondary restaurant in the home’s bottom level, a more modern space called Bistro 72, which hosts live music.


"We’re here to stay for the next 40 years," he said.




Organic Grocer is another longstanding Newton business, located along King George Boulevard at about 74th Avenue.


The shop has been in the neighbourhood for 17 years, and before that, it was in the Surrey Public Market for three.


Owner Garth Owen said the area has been good to him.


"We’re a very busy store, we have about 200 people a day come through our store."


He said the neighbourhood is home to many young families, as well as a lot of active youth.


"People tend to forget that Surrey is very sports-oriented. We have lots of teams and they range from grade school through to university or community college…. These are healthy, active young families and we really like that. In some of the turmoil that cities go through, you forget about this middle class that’s starting to thrive in Surrey."


Owen went on to say the area is home to fabulous restaurants.


"We have the Old (Surrey Restaurant) house, we have the Italian place, (Villa) Verdi, up the street. They’re treasures that are right in Newton that don’t get enough exposure."


Owen said the quality of life in the neighbourhood improved "immensely" when some of the area’s older developments came down.


In the complex next to his, he saw an old hotel and a couple of bars demolished, which were replaced by Save-On-Foods and other stores. Also, Owen said Newton is home to many parks.


"In the summertime it’s wonderful to walk through any of the small parks in Newton parks or the bigger ones and see parents throwing parties for 50 kids. They’re just out of control and everybody is having fun and it’s just a community. And we need to start recognizing some of those things that are really good in our community," he said, adding that when people use the area’s parks, they’re safe.


"It’s when people start to be afraid to go out, then problems develop."


But Owen also calls for change. He’d like to see a shift in the way the local police operate.


"We would like to see the police abandon their idea of community policing for something that’s more community oriented. I also have a place on the Gulf Islands where the RCMP officers are out of their cars most of the time. They know the merchants, they talk to the merchants, they know the shoppers, they know the commuters, they know who’s not supposed to be there," he said.


"Any community that has face-to-face time with their officers is always a safer community."


Owen said he and his staff have come to know some of the neighbourhood’s addicts.


"As long as they behave, they come into the store and we listen to them. A lot of them are trying to get into rehab and basically, they’re not bad people. They just have some social problems," he said.




Kulvir Tung, who has owned Prism Hair Designs for 18 years, located across the street from the bus loop in the same complex as Beach Basket Giftware, said her business is thriving in the area.


Tung emphasized that she loves the area’s people. The neighbourhood is diverse, and people are friendly, she said.


She has clients of all ethnic backgrounds, from Chinese to South Asian to Caucasian to Filipino. It’s a mix, she said.


"I love the diversity of the area. It’s rich in culture."


Tung said she’s had people ask to wash her windows, use her washroom or use her phone, and when she declines, she says they are polite.


"You see people around here, but we’ve never had clients be bothered by anybody. It’s a judgment to say these guys are on drugs. They could be homeless."


She said people have come in who appear to be "on the other side of the tracks," but no one has made a scene or bothered her clientele.


"It hasn’t hurt our business." Tung said after Paskall’s murder, people are alarmed.


"Incidents like what happened near Newton Exchange, it’s sad because there’s transit police supposed to be present here, there’s a community police station right there."


She’d like to see foot patrol. "It would be good for prevention," she said. "If there’s more police walking around in this area, that presence, I think will deter