When Chaylene Lidell and Shaughnessy Otsuji won Downtown Langley Business Association’s Start It Up Langley contest with their idea for a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, it appeared to be a well-timed stroke of good luck.
The idea for the café came about when clients at Lidell and Otsuji’s paramedical tattoo business, Studio Sashiko, kept asking where they could go for a bite to eat.
When the fish shop just down the street from the studio moved, the space looked ideal.
“I feel like we would have done this regardless of the contest,” Otsuji recalled.
Then, when the pair learned the space was going to be the prize in a unique contest, they entered and won.
It was September of 2018 when they got the news.
As winners of the the Start it Up Langley contest, they were eligible for more than $130,000 in prizes to help them launch their business, Pink Avo café.
That included six months’ free rent, marketing support, legal and accounting fees, business coaching, a grand opening reception, and more.
As it turned out, it would take more than a year before the cafe could open, thanks to a series of unpleasant surprises and setbacks that would test Lidell and Otsuji’s persistence.
“We thought that we had a perfect white box,” Otsuji observed.
If they had been planning a retail outlet, it would have been a fairly simple process of filling that white box with shelves and display counters.
But a restaurant, which requires stringent standards to be met, is a more complicated kind of business.
It turned to be a bumpy ride.
One day, their project manager phoned and told them the aging premises were “riddled” with asbestos.
“It had to go down to the studs,” Liddell recounted.
“That prolonged the process.”
That was the bad news.
If there was a silver lining, it may have been the discovery the plaster ceiling was hiding large wooden support beams that would become a design feature in the redesigned space.
Lidell and Otsuji also endured a crash course in health regulations, like discovering they would need a grease trap, something they didn’t think would apply to them as a vegetarian restaurant.
“We don’t have grease,” Lidell said, but rules are rules, and their plumbing had to be redone, again.
As did the wiring.
As did the outside sign, which was in bad shape and needed to be rebuilt.
The six month free rent “kind of came and went during the renovation process,” Otsuji said.
During all of this Lidell became a mom.
“We didn’t know which was going to arrive first, her [the baby] or the cafe,” Liddell laughed.
In fact, baby Poppy was first, on Nov. 2nd, several months ahead of the cafe.
Once the dust had settled, the result, the work of noted Langley interior designer Josie Smith, is a bright, high-ceilinged space.
“We basically re-did everything,” Lidell observed.
After that, the novice restaurateurs hired and train cooks, baristas and cashiers, about 10 staff.
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PINKAVO GLOW UP! 🙌 Swipe to see how we transformed this space into our own little piece of paradise! There were a LOT of surprises along the way but those beautiful glulam beams were the best hidden gem of them all! Thank you to our incredible designer, Josie of @studioilla, for helping us make our dreams come true! 🤍 📷: @jessmeighan
Plans are to operate, at least initially, from morning to afternoon
“I think we’ll start as breakfast/lunch hour,” Otsuji told the Langley Advance Times.
Otsuji and Lidell, who have noticed some critical comments on social media about the delayed opening, say detractors should know that winning the contest was a help, but it didn’t cover everything.
In fact, the two estimate they spent close to $500,000 of their own money getting the restaurant ready.
“We want people to know it wasn’t given to us,” Lidell said.
Despite the sometimes-frustrating process, they remain enthusiastic about Pink Avo.
“We are still so excited,” Otsuji said.
Lidell agreed, adding she is optimistic about their prospects for success.
“We like our chances,” she said.
Teri James, DLBA executive director, was impressed, calling the cafe “absolutely stunning.”
“It was well worth the wait,” James said.
Initial reviews online have been enthusiastic, with Google Reviews comments like “amazing” “gorgeous,” “delicious” and “my new favourite cafe.”
The restaurant is located on the one-way, at 20534 Fraser Hwy, and operates 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.