Muskoka To-DAILY

Bethune Bistro restaurant closure bad timing, bad precedent


GRAVENHURST — As Canada celebrates a 150 multicultural mosaic and Gravenhurst pleads for a bilingual school, the town is embroiled in a “petty” feud that threatens a downtown anchor business on the eve of its most important season.

Bethune Bistro, its Canadian flag in front, Chinese lettering on its sign and named after the town's most famous son, is closed temporarily in a dispute with the town over the fire code at the most inopportune time for both parties.

Bethune Bistro, its Canadian flag in front, Chinese lettering on its sign and named after the town’s most famous son, is closed temporarily in a dispute with the town over the fire code at the most inopportune time for both parties.

Is this the welcome mat Chinese students, tourists, investors and the province want rolled out?

Heavy-handed town or hard-working Chinese immigrants harrassed by overzealous officials?

Residents are hungering for answers to this nasty little piece of business.

Fire extinguishers that were two inches too high made it into court documents a judge relied on in issuing a compliance order that fire and building officials enforced to the letter of the law Monday.

It forced Bethune Bistro restaurant owner Bei Bei to close after a town inspection concluded they were taking too long to install a second exit from an unused basement.

It comes at the most inopportune time for both parties, and sets a bad precedent for other businesses and investors in town.

Bei, whose last name is the same as her first, expects the work to be done by Monday — a week late.

But that wasn’t good enough, said two town officials, who enforced the court ruling as was their right.

And the town followed up this week by threatening to sell the building (they can’t) if Bei didn’t pay $12,000 in town court costs.

After three years of cooperation, compliance and colaboration between the two combatants since Bei bought the main street building on Muskoka Road in September 2014, it’s come down to this.

A nearly $600,000 investment in buying, refurbishing and retro-fitting a local landmark to 2017 Gravenhurst standards (not to speak of providing housing for five families in apartments upstairs) and their doors are closed.

Xie, xie (“thank you”) for coming.

A week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners missed; eight people wondering about their jobs; and an embarrassment for the town.

And the threat of counter lawsuits and a late appeal to the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office.

To the town’s credit, in recent years it has been playing catchup on deficiencies and delinquencies on the part of not only building owners and operators but the town itself, which  over the decades was tardy in its own fiduciary duty toward tenants, customers and residents at large.

Scary fires, including one on the abutting corner and two a block away in recent years that left families homeless but not injured, have the town rightly running scared.

But there’s a limit and and fairness.

Bei says in a release she is: “sad that a lot of misinformation is being directed at her by the Town of Gravenhurst and the fire department with regard to orders to comply to bring her establishment up to code.”

Bei’s son, Sam Xu, says the family understood when they bought the old building it would need work.

And he says they done it to the tune of about $200,000, including $35,000 for new washrooms on the main floor, fire doors up in the five apartments, and all kinds of work in basement, which has been sealed off to the public after front steps were sealed off.

And the family raced to Toronto on immediate orders to get a fire-retardant stain to cover a unique wood-pile-looking front counter-top.

He just thinks the town is being a little stricter than it need to be.

“It seems a little petty,” he sold

Others have said the same about town tactics on other inspections, but are afraid to speak out against the law.

Still, the family remains optimistic it can meet the requirements and reopen early this week, after yet another inspection.

She said in a release, she is “sad that a lot of misinformation is being directed at her by the Town of Gravenhurst and the Fire Department with regard to orders to comply to bring her establishment up to code.”

Bei says “It is disappointing to hear the fire chief and the town say that I failed to comply and the building is not safe. That is not true.”

She says she understands the necessity of the fire code and had tried many times over the year to work with the fire department to comply with all of the items that were identified.

Many which, she said, she had inherited when she purchased the property.

She said the fire department was on her door the second day she opened demanding a long list of deficiencies be corrected.

She had a fire consultant in right away to help address some of the concerns.

She says she hired two architects and two fire consultants to work with her to resolve any fire code issues.

Bei says every item has now passed inspection except for the contested second exit out of the basement. The professional engineers and architects she hired tried many times for alternative solutions, to no avail.

Time ran out, so she had to comply with the court order date. She said she had no choice but to accept the joint proposal of a second exit rather than close.

Presently there are four exits on the main floor with a set of interior steps out of the basement.

Bei claims many other businesses in other communities have been granted exceptions and there is a long-standing interpretation from the Fire Marshal’s Office that a second exit is only required when the area is for public use.

Bethune Bistro has complied with the fire code, she says, and there are many life safety systems in place for the whole building, fire alarms, fire rated doors, fire separations, fire safety plans and emergency procedures.

“Why am I being forced to do this major construction, when the building is safe and should be grandfathered.”

She says the basement is empty except for maintaining an electrical panel and a water heater and is not used by any patrons.

“It makes no sense to any of my customers or to my family and friends to have to spend thousands of dollars to build a concrete staircase to a 100-year-old building.”

She says a building permit from the town was given on June 7 and the construction was started immediately, but due to weather and unforeseen problems with an older structure, they were not able to meet the deadline.

Bei is sorry for the inconvenience caused to her customers and looks forward to opening soon.

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Posted by on Jun 25 2017. Filed under Headlines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Comments for “Bethune Bistro restaurant closure bad timing, bad precedent”

  1. Brian

    For many years, since Frank M. owned this same restaurant, I have heard of violations regarding this building. I have been in that ‘basement’ as you call it. I have been in the apartments above it. I even watched as the fire department battled to fight at least one very stubborn fire at this location.
    The most recent owners were very aware of the problems present prior to purchasing the business and agreed to a timely updating. The extensions given to them since have taken up valuable time and resources to the taxpayers simply because they were stalling. I think the town and our fire department are to be commended in this instance. Imagine if any of these downtown fires had claimed lives…..would you still use the Chinese school as a defence to the victims?

    Poor excuse for something that will save lives, Mark.

  2. Prometheus

    Bei Bei unfortunately you will find Muskoka has its hands full of such people. The fire department is full of pot stirrers as is the town of Gravenhurst .
    If you keep getting harassed and this is what I feel they are doing to get you to move out contact a mainstream television media in Toronto Global, CTV, CBC, I know one or all of them would love to do a long segment on your problems over such petty things as fire extinguishers 2 inches to high. The second exit is NOT REQUIRED in the basement the person who said it was doesn’t know the fire code at all.
    Your a target and so is the Chinese school that is trying to get into the old sanatorium site.
    Also write your local MPP Norm Miller, Parry Sound-Muskoka, Bracebridge Office. He is fighting for the Chinese school tooth and nail.

  3. Prometheus

    Brian “simply because they were stalling” now how did you come to that conclusion, making a judgement with out facts Bei Bei was and still investing a vast amount of money into this restaurant and housing unit. She was late due to weather and problems due to the age of the building. Now lets look at the second building to the left of this one it is full of code violations its up for sale and has been for some time did it finally get bought? Why wasn’t the fire department all over the owners of this building to get all violations fixed. You know the answer that blue sign above the door with a square and compass in it.
    Now it has rental units and I think a few apartments as well. Brian are you a Gravenhurst fire fighter or a member of the skull & bones the original name for said group? Now Bracebridge has an almost new building with lodging units for students maybe the Mayor of Bracebridge should contact the Chinese school to see if their interested in that location, once the Nipissing University.

  4. decee

    I had a similar experience with District of Muskoka officials about 20 years ago with my start up business. I concluded the District was anti business so I moved elsewhere

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