The West Coast Wire
New owner of Seven Seas interested in its history
Steve Zahanov wants to learn more about the the business before leasing out its space
For two decades, Steve Zahanov would occasionally peer from his family’s restaurant across the parking lot on the opposite side of the street to the building that once housed the Seven Seas Restaurant.
Once a popular place to dine in Corner Brook, the Chinese restaurant has been closed since before its owner, Wing Soon Oue, died in the spring of 2004.
The inside of the Seven Seas looks much the same as it did when it last served a paying customer. Curious passersby can peer into the glass storefront windows and see that the diner-style furniture has only been moved to the side and some ceiling tiles and walls have been removed as the result of some sort of damage.
Everything else has essentially remained as it was in years gone by.
The building stayed in the family’s hands and didn't go on the market until late 2018. There were no buyers until curiosity finally got the better of Zahanov recently.
Buying the building was mostly based on his gut instinct about the potential of the property.
“I walked about 20 feet into the building and said (to his real estate agent) to put in an offer,” Zahanov said as he sat at one of the old dining tables recently for an interview with SaltWire Network about his purchase.
“I’m confused as to why this stayed unsold for so long. It’s an excellent buy — a diamond in the rough, as they say.”
Zahanov is in the business of buying and developing properties and, contrary to rumours that the building has some serious structural issues, he says it is solid and relatively easy to prepare for new tenants.
Because some of the ceiling and walls have been exposed, he knows exactly what he’s dealing with.
“This is amazing,” he said. “From an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), electrical, plumbing — every standpoint, this is so easy to work on.”
THE BEST USE
Zahanov’s family recently sold their restaurant, Sorrento, which is now a new eating establishment, Park West.
He has been bombarded with messages from wellwishers who have no shortage of suggestions for him about the Seven Seas building — everything from an ice cream parlour to a burger joint, but Zahanov is not interested in starting a restaurant that will compete with the new owners at Park West.
In fact, he’s not yet sure what will materialize in the Seven Seas building.
His plan is to likely lease the main downstairs space to some enterprise and maybe renovate the upstairs for a possible mix of accommodations and other leased business space.
Zahanov, who is part owner of Saltbox and Everoutdoor Adventures in nearby Humber Arm South, said he would like to see the space used for something related to the arts or tourism sectors.
“It depends on what (the leasee’s) needs are,” he said of how the building will be developed. “I’m trying to find the best use, but I’m not sure what the best use is.”
He revealed there is an interested party who seems serious about the space, but that’s still being worked on and Zahanov’s not about to do anything hasty.
Before anything happens with the old Seven Seas building, it is important to Zahanov to further investigate its interesting history.
He is intrigued by how it was maintained by the former owner, as well as the cultural items left behind and the general family history of the place.
The Zahanovs came to Canada from Bulgaria, so he sees a parallel between his family’s experience and the immigrant experience of Wing Soon Oue’s family.
The restaurant is a time capsule of sorts. On the counter is a copy of The Western Star newspaper from July 10, 1999. Stacks of menus and gift cards for the restaurant and business cards left by patrons remain neatly piled behind the cash checkout.
Receipts and a chequebook are still out in the open, offering a glimpse into the business dealings of the restaurant.
In the kitchen, there is still flour on the rolling pins and coagulated fat in a deep fryer. The pots, pans, woks and kitchen utensils all sit there as though Oue was expected to stroll back in to cook up one of his signature Chinese dishes.
NOT JUST AN OLD RESTAURANT
The building isn’t just full of all the items you’d expect to find in a restaurant. Here and there are numerous Chinese trinkets and personal items, including photos, letters and notes — some penned in Chinese.
The last thing Zahanov wants to do is just toss all this stuff and the memories they represent into a dumpster without first determining what among it has value.
A condition of the purchase was that all of the contents were to be left as is and Zahanov hopes he can find a way to celebrate the history of the business.
“There is a story here that needs to be told and it’s an interesting story,” he said. “I think it would be a good idea to try and preserve some of the memories that are here.”
One thing is already clear to Zahanov. The Oue family was proud of their business and were an integral part of Corner Brook, including the chequebook indicating the business was known to make charitable donations.
He feels an obligation to pay homage to the Oue family and to give this interesting piece of Corner Brook history the attention it warrants.
“My family immigrated here and we made a success story out of us . ... If I can help tell another story, then maybe that’s why I bought this building,” he said.
This article was originally published in The Telegram.