Tzanov, who launched the business with her husband, said the decision to close was partly personal and partly financial.
“Just thank everybody — all my supporters for helping me have 23 years of an amazing ride,” she said in a brief interview Monday.
“I have a basket of amazing memories of times with great people, great food, great wine. It’s just really … it was a great experience. Great.”
About 20 employees were told of the closure before a written notice was posted on the restaurant’s website and Facebook page Sunday. The post, credited to Bianca, highlighted some of the reasons behind the move.
They included a realization, with the sudden loss of a brother in Bulgaria, that priorities in her life were continuing to take a backseat for the sake of the business. But there were also dollars-and-cents reasons.
“The past two years have been a fight to keep everybody employed, but with debt increasing and sales decreasing it became clear that the battle for us was over and it is time to pass the torch on to the many new and highly talented restaurant owners and staff that provide residents here with such a vibrant and creative local dining scene,” she stated.
Emir Mahic, owner of One 11 Chophouse, is a competitor to Bianca’s and friend of the family.
“She was an inspiring individual for all of us,” he said. “She certainly delivered fine dining to Newfoundland — at its finest. And without her, it’s not going to be the same. Absolutely not.”
Bianca’s is being hailed as a leader in the local restaurant business.
“It’s an institution that’s been around for a long time. They were really kind of at the very beginning of what’s happening in the Newfoundland food scene now,” said Todd Perrin, a chef and co-owner of Mallard Cottage restaurant in Quidi Vidi.
“We’re on the culinary map across the country and across the world really, and Bianca’s was really one of the very first restaurants that kind of opened people’s eyes to the type of food that you could do here in St. John’s and in Newfoundland,” Perrin said. “So a lot of the people who are in the business today owe those guys a lot for kind of setting the landscape for where we are now.”
The closure comes on the heels of a downsizing by Legros and Mottis and shuttering of The Works, both also located in the city’s downtown. And competition from a growing number of restaurants is being considered as a factor.
“We have a lot more restaurants now of all stripes. Personally, I think we’ve reached the point where we really have more restaurants than we need. There seems to be a steady parade of restaurant openings. And there’s only so many customers out there,” said Karl Wells, chef and restaurant reviewer.
“There’s been an overwhelming amount of new restaurants opening,” echoed Bernie Fowler, owner of Magnum and Steins on Duckworth Street and a former front-of-house manager at Bianca’s. He said he has taken notice over the past five years or so.
“Also in the downtown area, when they put in restaurants like The Keg and Legros and Mottis that take upwards to 1,000 seats a night on the weekends … it’s not like a 40-seater opening,” he said. “When things of that size open in your area, obviously it’s going to affect you and everybody else around it.”
Fowler said his business remains on solid footing, as a result of re-invention, maintaining its base of regulars, changing locations and diversifying by tying into a boutique hotel business.
Generally speaking, margins remain, as always, tight in the local restaurant business and closures can happen for many different reasons.
“A restaurant that’s been around for 23 years is an awesome, awesome thing,” said Nancy Brace, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, on Bianca’s. “So that’s a major accomplishment.”
Anyone with standing reservations at Bianca’s can expect to be contacted. Gift cards will be honoured for the next six months at The Black Sea Restaurant and Bistro Sofia, under a deal reached with one of the principals in those businesses, according to the notice.