By Brett McKay
As she prepares to close the Blue Plate Diner for good, owner Rima Devitt can't help but wonder what would have happened if her restaurant hadn't been pushed out of its longtime home on 104 Street.
The 18-year-old restaurant moved in 2019 to make way for the proposed Mackenzie Tower development. The project at 10145 104 St. was cancelled, and the building is now the home of Seoul Fried Chicken. Seeing another restaurant in Blue Plate's old spot has been "a bitter pill to swallow," Devitt said.
"It breaks my heart. I love that space," she said. "I used to sweep that whole block and pick up the garbage and talk to people. And I just feel sad about the fact that the building is still there, and maybe we didn't have to move."
Devitt and co-owner John Williams initially looked for another location on 104 Street, but only found smaller, pricier spaces — a reality that is still limiting business development in the community, she said.
"All those spaces are still empty. They're still sitting there. It's disturbing because there's so many empty spaces for businesses, downtown, and other areas in Edmonton, and they're charging what they're calling market value for these spaces that just isn't affordable for people who want to operate a little independent restaurant or whatever."
They found a spot at 12323 Stony Plain Rd. instead, but it was hard to get traction there, and then COVID hit, devastating the restaurant industry. Now people are dining again, but the cost of food is up, rent is still a lot, and government support put in place during the pandemic is gone.
"Everyone's just on this hamster wheel trying to survive right now," Devitt said. "We're certainly not the first restaurant to collapse under this type of pressure. We're definitely not going to be the last."
The announcement of the impending closure was followed by an outpouring of condolences and stories from supporters on social media. Alongside posts mourning the loss of a favourite dish were memories of first dates, business lunches, and the eclectic decor, illustrating the personal connection many Edmontonians had with the restaurant.
"I've just been trying not to cry for the last several days since we made the announcement because every time I pick up my phone and read something..." Devitt said, her voice wavering. "A lot of these people I know, I've built relationships with them over the years, and my coworkers have built relationships with these people over the years."