Dear Ghost Of The Novia Café: Forgive Us, Because We’re All To Blame

Today is the last day of operations for the 93 year-old Novia Café on 12th Ave.

Maybe no one will miss it that much. After all, the Novia of the past decade was a shadow of the original establishment that first opened in 1918. Still, it’s hard not to think about what might have been.

Old diners in other cities are now regularly taken over by young, savvy business people who see the potential in their beauty, character, and history. Sometimes they maintain the menu (albeit with some healthier additions) and other times they revamp it entirely, following more contemporary trends in cuisine. The Novia could have filled either role in Regina’s gastronomical scene. But not any more. Today the restaurant closes, and any hope of opening something like that in its place will be gutted along with what is left of the Novia’s original interior.

This is infuriating, but who’s to blame? The landlord who wouldn’t offer a lease, thus discouraging any proprietor from investing in upgrades? The construction of City Square, which took place over the past year on the Novia’s doorstep? The proprietor who wouldn’t open on weekends even when the Farmer’s Market and the Folk Festival brought thousands of people to the downtown?

Maybe we’re all to blame; Us, the people of Regina, who don’t seem terribly interested in hanging onto things (namely pieces of our shared heritage) and have thus allowed the destruction of buildings like the Capital Theatre, and the McCallum-Hill, and the old City Hall and (insert your own favourite heritage building that has been knocked down).

Regina is unlike any other city I’ve seen. Over the years, the evacuation and demolition of its once beautiful downtown has left the place pockmarked with parking lots and eyesores. Now one more piece of the downtown is heading out the door.

(photo of Novia Café via National Post)

Author: Wanda Schmöckel

Wanda Schmockel is just trying to get by without shoving. You may follow her on twitter @vschmo

11 thoughts on “Dear Ghost Of The Novia Café: Forgive Us, Because We’re All To Blame”

  1. Yet another in the long list of “sad days” for Regina. What is up with us? Just when it seems like the downtown is starting to recover from 30-some years of neglect and abuse, we lose our oldest dining establishment.

    For me, the Novia really died some time ago. In the early 90s when I worked downtown, I ate at the Novia regularly: breakfast, lunch and dinner. (For those too young to remember, the Novia used to be open into the evenings and on weekends too!)

    I was away from Regina from 92 through 2003 and when I returned the Novia was not what it had been. There had been some major aesthetic damage to what had been an intact 60s diner, and the menu was much reduced from what it had been.

    Over the past few years, I found the operating hours baffling. Many times I thought of popping into the Novia for a bite only to find it closed, and a bunch of guys inside playing cards.

    Farewell Novia, apparently Regina didn’t deserve you.

  2. Maybe the Novia didn’t deserve Regina. When it was going through all the trouble with the construction I tried to make a point of stopping by to eat and hopefully do what little I could to help them out. But a business doesn’t really do itself any favours when it opens only erratically at best. There were times when I showed up during the posted business hours, once at 8:30 in the morning, when it just wasn’t open. No “back in 5” or “open at 10:00” sign, just nothing. It was frustrating and impossible to figure out what the hell was going on. And when I did manage to catch them with their doors open the server that was working was downright ornery.

    As much as the idea of the Novia will be missed the actual institution? Probably not so much. People can lionize it all they want and demonize whatever may have contributed to its downfall (obviously, yes, construction played a part, no one would dispute that) but when the ownership treated it as an afterthought instead of a business maybe it got what it deserved.

  3. I don’t mean to pile on, but erratic open hours really don’t help anyone here (or being closed evenings and most of the weekend.) Caffe Sola does that here in Saskatoon, and it drives me nuts, especially when I am craving a vegan espresso brownie…

  4. If the recent tweet, “People stopped being nice in 1997” applies, then today’s packed lunchtime crowd was decidedly pre-1997-style. The atmosphere was jovial, wistful, private w/o feeling impersonal. It felt like what a Regina lunch crowd probably used to feel like, before people started claiming 16-feet of personal iSpace for themselves.

    I’m happy to say the grill brought its noviA-game and the servers, whom I had never seen before, were friendly and sweet. The chips were a-ma-zing. What’s truly sad is when the ownder closed–there’s nothing more “Regina summer” than a Novia heatwave visit, that brief tyme in July or August when it’s actually really hot for more than a day at a tyme.

    Closing June 24th is so random. Now we’ve got a whole brief summer to go without the Novia. Also like to say the Novia was much bigger than its owner or landlord. It’s a shame some wealthy benefactor never stepped in and ran the Novia as a trust, as it should be run. It’s so shameful to close it down due to “market forces” or landlord squabbles, who, by the way, apparently treated the owner with nothing but respect but also refused to ever give him a lease. What?

    Anyway, it’s in the history books now. Nary a man, woman, or child alive today who can ever remember Regina without its Novia Cafe. I guess we get to be the first. Lucky us!

  5. The best burger in Regina is the Novia/Mercury burger. At least we have the Mercury now so you can still get that burger.

  6. Good to know. Even my tomato was ripe and robust. It was a banner day. I’m totally going back.

    Oh

    wait

  7. We let that place go. We’re such assholes. I don’t think the owner was very motivated, but it sounds like the landlords had other plans, too.

  8. Hi, my name is Donna and my parents owned the Novia Cafe from 1967 until 1994 when they retired. The Novia was an awesome place growing up. We had an excellent clientele and great staff. The pies were famous and was featured in McLeans magazine. We were opened 6 days of the week, opened by 8:00 am and closed late, if I recall, it was around 10:00 pm.

    Too bad that the Novia Cafe has closed and am saddened to hear of this.

    We had many fond memories.

  9. Another tidbit, the Novia Cafe was also used in the filming of the restaurant segment of The Hounds of Notre Dame. My cousin and uncle were in the movie.

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