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Closing time 

Two of the city’s favourite restaurateurs—Dennis Johnston and Jane Wright—reflect on why change isn’t always a bad thing.

Fid’s Dennis Johnston says Halifax’s resto scene has merit. - ANGELA GZOWSKI
  • Fid’s Dennis Johnston says Halifax’s resto scene has merit.
  • Angela Gzowski

In this long David Bowie song we call life, we must all turn and face the strange at some point. Because with or without the ch-ch-ch-ch, time is running wild and changes are never far off.

For Dennis Johnston and Monica Bauché, owners of Fid Resto---a pioneer of the "eat local" movement and stalwart favourite on critic and customer best-of lists---the end of May will mark a huge change. After more than a decade on Dresden Row, they will close the restaurant on May 31.

"We usually mix things up every decade---when we moved here we opened up Fid---and we've been doing this for 13 years," says Johnston. "It's a happy decision, we're in a happy place: it's all good. We'll look at our options in the future, but for now we're going to take a little break and relax and get rested up."

It's easy to look at the business community in downtown Halifax and view this as a sort of death in the family, but in reality this is not so cheerless a situation. This is only as sad as it is to see the star quarterback and the homecoming queen graduate and see where life takes them.

"A lot of people are really negative on Halifax, and their first move is to say 'Oh, another business is slaughtered, our city is terrible, business is dying,' or 'What's going on, why doesn't someone do something to make our city more exciting?'" says Johnston. "It worries me that that is everyone's first go-to reaction. People try to link our conscious decision to close with every other closure in Halifax and it becomes this hyperbole. It's our decision, a personal decision."

Jane Wright embraced similar change last year when she decided to close jane's on the common. Much like Fid, Jane's closed up shop at the end of a lease.

"For me it was kind of a lot of mixed factors, and just being who I am I had to put the best spin on it and go with it," says Wright. "My closing had mostly to do with my lease situation---I knew that I wasn't going to get that third lease, so I had to strategize around that. I just really needed to eliminate all of the uncertainty: I couldn't live with it anymore. I bought the building on Gottingen with the intention that I could move my restaurant there, but then I started to recognize that I didn't have it in me to open another restaurant.

"One of my greatest regrets is that I discovered entrepreneurship so late in life," Wright continues. "It takes your heart and soul to have a successful small independent restaurant. It's really hard physical work, too. You really have to be there; you have to be on. If I'd been younger when I started Jane's, would I be closed now? I'm not sure. But I've also thought it was important to quit while I'm ahead."

And, as Johnston says, there are lots of freshmen stepping up to fill empty plates.

"I think that Halifax has merit," he says. "There is a younger generation of restaurateurs coming up. You have Renée Lavallée--- The Feisty Chef---you have Sean Gallagher of Local Source, you have Brooklyn Warehouse, you have Frédéric Tandy from Ratinaud, who just celebrated his first year."

"The bar is set really high," says Wright, noting that her daughter is in the midst of renovating to open a new space.

Johnston is excited to see the vibrancy of the city continue and grow. "I just want to say 'I want to go out to dinner tonight' and have some wicked choices," he says. "Just like everybody else."

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