You can’t exactly call Jacky and Kara Lai empty-nesters, but it’s going to almost seem that way after eight years of owning and operating the Owl’s Nest Bakery Bistro in downtown Chemainus.
The couple decided to sell quite some time ago, a process slowed down somewhat by COVID-19, but a deal finally came to fruition and Cici Shen from Edmonton will be assuming ownership as of Nov. 1.
The Lais decided it was time to spend more time with their children, an eight-year-old who was a mere eight months old when they started the business and their six-year-old who came along in the early stages of the hectic lifestyle of running the establishment.
“It’s been good, bittersweet for sure,” said Kara a week before the takeover went into effect.
Kara, who grew up in Nelson, B.C., and Jacky met at Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, near the Montana border. Kara’s trade as a baker and Jacky’s as a chef provided the perfect combination for summer employment at the Prince of Wales Hotel and brought them together.
They were later living in Calgary after getting together and visiting Kara’s aunt in Chemainus when the Owl’s Nest – formerly known as Little Town Market and the Dancing Bean Cafe, and Billy’s Delight before that for those who can remember far back – caught their attention. Kara’s aunt just happens to be Erin Ormond and uncle Mark DuMez of Chemainus Theatre fame and Kara’s grandparents are also in Chemainus as well.
Within the week of that visit, Jacky recalled, they looked at the place and decided to go for it. They went back to Calgary for about a month and then returned to Chemainus to start their new venture.
There was no turning back and the rest, as they say is history, with a new chapter ahead now to be written but not until after much reflection of what’s transpired during their time as the Owl’s Nest owners.
“Ups and downs, but for the most part has worked out OK,” said Kara. “Great staff throughout the years and support from family and the community.”
“People in town have been so generous and supportive throughout the last eight years,” added Jacky.
Navigating through COVID has been an experience that no one has a manual for how to approach it. The Lais just made the best of it.
“It was good for us,” said Kara. “We had that break and we were able to spend that family time.”
They came back with takeout service and people responded well.
“I wouldn’t want to have to go through that in a big city,” reasoned Kara. “In Chemainus, the business community is very supportive of each other.”
They’ll be taking baby steps in the transition period now.
“I’ve been in the kitchen since I was 11,” said Jacky, now 39. “It’s been second nature and quick pace has been second nature. In restaurants, we had a team of people doing the work. Here, it’s me and one or two other people. After eight years, that’s the reason we decided to move out of that chapter with the kids.”
The kids have spent a lot of time in the back room at the restaurant, Kara chuckled.
The last day is coming up quickly and reality is setting in.
“We’re planning on opening on the 31st,” said Jacky. “We might close a bit early for inventory and it’s Halloween with the kids again.”
He doesn’t have any definite plans about what’s next yet.
“Take it easy for a couple of weeks, I guess,” Jacky contemplated. “I need to concentrate on a retirement plan. I’m going to keep that open, for sure. For now, I’ll see what other avenues there are.”
But good news for fans of the Owl’s Nest’s baking, Kara is going to be sticking around for a while to do the baking and staff is staying as well.
“I’ll be here for most of the month of November and help the new owners transition,” she said. “That’ll remain consistent with muffins and tarts and scones. People don’t need to worry. It’ll be different, not a drastic change.”
The Lais won’t be going away regardless and have become entrenched in the community.
“We’re living in town, we’re not going anywhere,” noted Kara. “This is our town, this is our community. We want to be here.”
Shen, who went to school in Richmond, also has her mom on board in the business and will bring some of her own ideas and additions to the menu.
“She likes doing stuff like bubble tea,” Kara pointed out. “She likes creating drinks.”
Shen wanted to move to the Island and the Owl’s Nest fit the bill.
“They came through in August, September, took a quick look at the place,” pointed out Jacky. “We sat down for a few hours. They just really, really liked it.”
The deal eventually came together and the Lais slowly started to spread the word.
The main thing they wanted to say, Jacky emphasized, is “thank you for the support and we wish the new owners the very best.”