Is the 24-hour business dying?

Earlier this month, the beloved late night hangout Calhoun’s Bakery closed its doors. The cafe, which was located on West Broadway, was a place where UBC students often went at all hours to study and gulp down mug after mug of coffee. Midway through last year the owner, Hiu Nam Wan, made the decision to change the business’ hours so the cafe would close at midnight, this being an early step towards Calhoun’s eventually closing entirely. Wan, who purchased the cafe in 2007, is now devoting his time and energy to Calhoun’s Catering — so the name will live on in some respect.

“Staffing is the biggest issue,” said Wan, going on to cite the lack of late-night availability for staff as a significant problem in maintaining 24-hour operation, while also noting issues with homeless people who would stay in the cafe for hours during winter weather, occasionally taking up several tables and causing regular customers to leave.

The closure of this Kitsilano establishment prompted some concerns about the existence of 24-hour businesses in Vancouver's future. Is this a viable business model or a doomed practice? To find out, we spoke with two well-known Vancouver restaurateurs about their respective experiences, as well as with UBC professor Dr. Darren Dahl.

Aiyana Kane and Jackie-Rae Avery are the owners Bandidas, a vegetarian taqueria located on Commercial Drive. Last year, they made the decision to expand their business and in the spring, renovations took place to expand their space, doubling it in size. Following this, their next goal was to change their hours and stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The idea was to create a place on the East Side where night owls could come for wholesome, healthy meals at any hour.

From a business perspective, they saw it as more efficient to keep their restaurant open at all times instead of taking the time to open and close at the beginning and end of the day, as they usually opened at 9 a.m. and closed between 12 and 1 a.m. However, the time and energy that they put into their restaurant expansion ended up being more exhausting than originally predicted, and the transition to the new hours operation had to be postponed indefinitely.

When working out the logistics of a 24-hour business, Kane and Avery were faced with the same issue of staffing that Wan mentioned, as this change would require a whole new team of people who were willing to work the necessary early morning hours.

“We want our business to be a place that’s nourishing for people to work at and that isn’t hurting their lives or hurting them,” said Kane. “We have to find people who are into it in order for it to be aligned with our values.” When asked if they were hoping to eventually make the 24-hour switch, Kane said yes, but was not sure when that would be a possibility.

The Naam, a vegetarian eatery on West 4th, is known for its relaxed atmosphere, live music and constantly changing artwork. It is also one of the few places in Vancouver where one can grab a slice of apple pie or a veggie burger at 3 a.m. Open since 1968 and operating 24 hours since 1989, The Naam’s proximity to the beach and the UBC campus put the restaurant in a prime position for steady business.

Manager Glen Delukas says that last year was The Naam’s most successful year, with their busiest hours being between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. That being said, their busy hours are not always restricted to the typical eating hours. Delukas recalls one particular instance while working the graveyard shift.

“I remember it being peaceful. Next thing a bus pulls up front, like a tour bus or something, and [then] you have 20 people filing into the restaurant [who] want a full meal ’cause we serve the full menu all night,” he said.

The event which impacts the restaurant the most is the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, which gives way to their busiest weekend of the year.

One issue that The Naam faces stems from their presence in a relatively residential neighbourhood, which can lead to noise complaints from neighbours. In response, Delukas says, “I can communicate with them directly and make sure we work out a plan so that their comfortable and we can still continue to operate.”

Unlike Bandidas and Calhoun’s, The Naam's staffing poses less of an issue for them. “We have a solid crew — we don’t have a lot of turnover in staff at all. We have old-time staff working these shifts that they’ve been working for years,” said Delukas.

In spite of the logistical difficulties, Professor Darren Dahl of the Sauder School of Business predicts that the presence of 24-hour restaurants in Vancouver will rise as the population of the city increases. Dahl confirms that these establishments in areas with a busier nightlife, such as Downtown Vancouver, will see more success.

“As long as there’s a population, it will endure,” he said. However, Dahl also notes potential security risks for these restaurants, as police presence is typically reduced in the early morning hours.

Ultimately, a 24-hour business is dependent on two contributing factors — a location in a populous area in order to attract heavy crowds and a dedicated team that can work together under pressure at all hours of the day. With that combination, we can expect more of these businesses to pop up around the city, maybe even on a university campus with a population of students who pull all-nighters on a regular basis.