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Long-time family restaurant to close its doors in Central Saanich

Cory Porter opened Sassy’s 43 years ago as a Smitty’s, before rebranding
Long-time employees of Sassy’s Restaurant (from left) Rich Nelson (30 years), Chrissy Olsen (25 years) and Barry McGarvy join owner Cory Porter outside the restaurant as it prepares to closes its doors on Sunday (Aug.21) (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

For a person who is about to close a major chapter in his life and in the fabric of Central Saanich, Cory Porter sounds remarkably accepting of what lies ahead.

“I wish it was different, but it’s not,” said Porter, 73, who is preparing to close Sassy’s Restaurant on Sunday (Aug.21) after 43 years operating the business off West Saanich Road near Victoria Butterfly Gardens.

The business is not closing because of its bottom line. In an industry as fleeting as meteorite showers, staying open for more than four decades has granted Sassy’s the aura of a permanent fixture in the firmament, with only the Prairie Inn eclipsing it for longevity in the area.

“We are full right now,” Porter said.

Sassy’s is closing because his wife, Candy, earlier this year was diagnosed with Alzheimer disease. Porter decided to sell the eatery so he could care for her during the time that remains.

This concern for family and others runs like a thread through the history of the restaurant.

“He loves the restaurant, loves the community, loves the people,” said daughter Jen Porter. Her dad showed this appreciation through fundraising for countless causes and personally donating.

“If there was a funeral or something happened in First Nations communities, my dad would turn up with a roast. (He) did free meals for veterans on Remembrance Day. On Mother’s Day, we used to hand out flowers. He has always gone that extra mile to make things personal and people remember that. It resonates, so I think he will be missed.

Jen expects her father will miss the restaurant and everything that was part of it. Countless families on the Saanich Peninsula made Sassy’s their go-to-spot for breakfast and other meals. Generations of high school students and revellers recovering from a late night have shot the breeze there. It even had a walk-on-part in Netflix’s Maid series.

RELATED: Greater Victoria-filmed show ‘Maid’ premieres Friday on Netflix

“The restaurant was my dad’s Opus,” she said. “But at the same time, he is also ready to retire with my step-mom being sick and what not … I feel a bit of sadness that I’m not taking over the legacy.”

This said, Jen feels glad for having been a part of it as she and her sister, Carley Panzer, practically grew up in the restaurant.

“My dad used to bring me to work in a bucket of rags, on top of the rags and then he would get to work and hand me off to the coffee guys,” said Jen, now 41. “So the coffee guys would then babysit me. “People would say, ‘I used to change your diaper.’”

Naturally, she and Carley had their first jobs there, like all members of their respective families. “We have all worked there at different times and sometimes at the same time,” she said.

That history also includes Jen’s niece, Sapphira, or Sassy, as many regulars knew her. “She would pour cream in their coffee,” said Jen.

The popular 10-year-old died suddenly in 2011 of the rare disease hydrocephalus, which sees accumulating fluid put pressure on the brain and spinal cord.

“She just got sick one night and died,” Cory said. “It was a real shock to us.”

Wishing to honour Sassy’s memory, the family renamed the restaurant, formerly Smitty’s.

“My daughter Jennifer got the idea, ‘why not Sassy?’” said Cory. “She loved the restaurant. She loved food. She bussed tables all the time and get coffee for people she knew and stuff like that.”

Asked whether the closure of the restaurant might affect their memory, Jen said, “the legacy of Sassy will never die for us. When we did the change-over and the rebranding, the loss of Sassy was so fresh for us and it was a way for us to channel that energy and that grief together in a productive way, so that we could start to heal.”

The building’s future is uncertain, as the property is owned separately, but the business remains for sale for $195,000. An application to rezone the lot from tourist-commercial to a new comprehensive zone for a planned tourist-oriented mixed-use development has been submitted, but it’s uncertain when that may come before council.

Ultimately, Jen said the public should have a large say about the future of the land, which her dad had previously owned and tried to develop before selling it.

In the countdown to Saturday’s closure Jen is experiencing a range of emotions. “It does feel like the end of an era,” she said. But like her father, she strikes an accepting tone.

“The end of something is the beginning of something new, and it’s okay to let it go. Change is inevitable.”

Cory is hoping to have a special First Nations ceremony be part of the final day, with the public invited.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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