Levy’s Restaurant

Royal BC Museum Archives

Henry Emanuel (H.E.) Levy established Levy’s Arcade Oyster Saloon in 1865, at what is today 1316-18 Government Street in Victoria. It stood beside the luxury New England hotel and was at first, one of the poshest dining establishments in town. The restaurant was also one of the earliest to have a liquor license. H.E. was the sole proprietor until 1887.

With the profits from the business, H.E. was able to move his mother and siblings from London to Victoria.  After the family had settled, H.E. took his elder brother Joseph (Joe) as a business partner in the restaurant.  Soon after, H.E. turned the restaurant over to Joe and left Victoria to pursue other entrepreneurial interests in Seattle and Olympia. He met and married the socialite Eva Rosteinin Seattle.  When fires destroyed his businesses there, H.E. returned to Victoria with his wife and two sons. He rejoined his brother as an owner/manager. The restaurant was renamed Levy’s Arcade Restaurant and Chop Shop and later became known as Levy’s. 

Royal BC Museum Archives

The partnership between Joe and H.E. was dissolved in 1897-8 so that Joe could follow his mercantile interest during the Klondike gold rush.  H.E was the sole proprietor until 1903 when he brought his son Arthur into the business.  When H.E. retired in 1907, Arthur became full manager.  Arthur sold the business in 1912 and opened the Poodle Dog Café on Yates Street, near Government Street.  The new owners of Levy’s were able to keep the restaurant open for a few years, but permanently closed its doors in 1916.   

courtesy of Diana Eva Levy Lofstrom

While in operation, Levy’s featured an aquarium built into the front window. It displayed goldfish in one section and imported catfish, crayfish and terrapin in another.  Diners could select the fish that they wanted to eat for dinner. The menus were printed as a booklet and indexed at the top.  This layout kept the pages from becoming dog-eared and helped people make a selection quickly. There was a large pot-bellied stove in the middle of the restaurant which provided warmth in the winter.

The floor was covered with sawdust and a live parrot and cockatoo added to the ambience. The birds would provide entertainment as they played, squawked and carried on.

There was also a large Regina Corona music box. For a silver 5 cent piece, a patron could make a selection from a variety of operatic pieces which had been recorded onto large steel discs. The restaurant had 12 discs from which to choose. 

courtesy of Diana Eva Levy Lofstrom

Linen tablecloths and napkins were imported from Ireland.  Dishware came from potteries in Staffordshire, England. The logo of an oyster shell highlighted the words “Levy’s Restaurant established in 1865”. Every three months a ship arrived from England bringing two large crates (each weighing 600 lbs.) of Levy’s tableware.   A continuous supply of dinnerware was needed to replace the dishware which had been broken as part of normal use, or stolen for souvenirs. 

courtesy of Diana Eva Levy Lofstrom

 Levy’s specialized in fish and shellfish as well as ham and eggs, steaks and chops. Local prawns and crabs were served in season. In the early days, pheasant, grouse, quail, trout, venison, and bear meat were also featured. Levy’s imported honey and butter from Wellington N.Z, whitefish from Duluth, oysters and frogs’ legs from Baltimore, oysters from San Francisco, freshwater lobsters and catfish from Portland, crayfish, giant shrimp (weighing about 2-5 lb., also called lobsters) and clams from Los Angeles. Joe found a supplier of oysters from Sooke. Live turtles (weighing about 200 lbs. each) came from Tahiti. Arthur’s children, Manny and Virginia would sometimes ride the turtles in the basement of Levy’s before they were made into soup. 

All of the pastries were made in house. Every year a half ton supply of rhubarb, raspberry, strawberries, peaches and plum were delivered and made into jam. Vinegar, dill pickles and sauerkraut were all homemade. Haggis was prepared for Robbie Burns Day. Baked whole Sheep’s Head and cock-o-leek soup were served for St. Andrews Day. Other specialty items included; oyster loaf, chicken loaf, whole suckling pig, salted salmon belly and mackerel. H.E. paid homage to his Jewish roots by featuring traditional delicacies such as gefilte fish, herring, and matzo ball soup on the menu year round.

Excess fats were saved in butter-tubs and traded to the soap factory for bars of soap used for washing dishes. Fifty pounds of meat bones and 6 sheep’s livers were donated daily from the butcher shop. Wholesale prices in 1912 includes: fish (salmon, halibut, cod, sole, and smelt) for a flat rate of 6 cents/pound, eggs: 20 cents/dozen, butter: 20 cents/lb., potato: $16-$20/ton. 

Full course meals ranged in price from 25-50 cents. For 25 or 30 cents dinners would receive; bread and butter, soup, a fish appetizer, a full order of fish, roast or stew, a slice of pie and a cup of tea/coffee or a glass of milk. Meals which featured more expensive cuts of meat such as steak, mutton, chops, or ham and eggs cost between 25-50 cents. That order also came with a side of potatoes. One exception to these prices was made. According to Arthur Levy, until 1912, not many drunken people tried to enter Levy’s restaurant. Should one stumble in looking very disheveled, the staff would inform them that it would cost 75 cents for ham and eggs. The person would often respond with “’gor blimey me I can get that somewhere else for a shilling” and leave. 

courtesy of Diana Eva Levy Lofstrom

Red and white Italian Chianti were imported directly from Genoa, Italy. Local beer sold at 5 cents a pint, American beer and ale and Guinness ‘stout’ cost 25 cents, all liquors and mixed drinks were 15 cents. The proprietors of Levy’s restaurant wanted their patrons to be able to completely enjoy themselves and their meal without any fear of spending the night in the drunk tank. To that end, the proprietors created, a “toe tag.”   This “toe tag,” possibly the precursor to the designated driver, was attached to the clothing  

Levy’s restaurant was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There were 22 employees who worked 10-hour shifts, six days a week. The kitchen crew were all Chinese, many of whom worked at Levy’s for 20 years. Staff was well paid at $10.50 per week for the day shift and $12.00 for the night shift. A raise of $5 a month was given after one year of service and again each year thereafter. In 1910 The Union came to Victoria to organize the cooks and waiters. H.E. was already paying above the union wage and was happy for his staff to sign up. The union certificate was displayed on the wall. However, many other cafes refused to let their staff organize. The union called for a strike. Employees at Levy’s were required to join the strike to support the Union in their attempts to organize other restaurants.  As their employees were already receiving double the union wage, H.E. and Arthur were very angry and called the action a ‘gross injustice.’ 

Business was sometimes brisk for all of the 24 hours in the day.  At its height, the proprietors were able to make a net profit of 35%. People from all walks of life came to Levy’s including the Premier, and other politicians, dignitaries, as well as the staff from the Empress. Arthur remembered that after a “bad” night of fires, the members of the fire department came to the restaurant for T-bone steaks and charged the bill to the city. Arthur’s son Manny would often gamble with the Chief of Police and the Fire Chief in one of the rooms upstairs. Patrons of the theater, the cast and crew from traveling theater companies, dancers and vaudeville acts would frequent Levy’s from 10pm-4am. Passengers on steamships from San Francisco sometimes stayed until dawn. They would return to the ship in time for their passage to Seattle. 

Service at Levy’s was efficient. A short order could be cooked and served in 7 minutes. Patrons who didn’t want to linger could be on their way in about 20 minutes. At one point, the Tally-ho, a local sightseeing company, had 6-8 high seated vehicles.  Part of their tour included a quick bite at Levy’s which brought 20-30 tourists into the restaurant. 

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The doors at Levy’s restaurant were only closed one time in 47 years. That occurred when there was a rate war on the steamships on the Victoria-Seattle route. When the fares dropped to 25 cents, thousands of people descended on Victoria. Many of them flocked to Levy’s. When the restaurant was full, the doors were locked. As people left, others were allowed in to replace them. 

Levy’s restaurant played an important role in many of the special events held in Victoria. In 1909, a horse racing event was held in Victoria. Many of the owners, jockeys and book makers devoured T-bone steaks at Levy’s. Arthur recalled that the cooks cut up 8 full loins of beef, or about 600 pounds during that weekend.  When Dr. S. F. Tolmie was president of the Agricultural Fair, held in the autumn at the Willows Fair Grounds, he treated the visiting rodeo cowboys to a banquet at Levy’s. The cooks at Levy’s would prepare a special menu which featured a 20 lb. Tyee salmon which had been stuffed, baked whole and served on a special platter. In 1887 the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians. Delegates from both countries met in Victoria. They stayed at the Oriental Hotel on Yates Street and ate at the Arcade Oyster and Chop Shop as Levy’s was called then. The ‘champagne flowed like water to wash down the oysters, crabs, steaks and caviar.’ 

courtesy of Diana Eva Levy Lofstrom

Arthur Levy recalled that at one time there were eight British warships stationed at Esquimalt. Occasionally, in the wee hours, sailors would have a hoe-down at Levy’s. They stacked all of the tables and chairs against the wall, started the music-box, danced and drink for hours. They would then replace the tables and chairs and ask, ‘How much boss?’ The patrons would usually each pay one or two sovereigns (British coins). Some of the sailors needed to sober up before returning to their ship. They retired upstairs to one of the half a dozen small (8 X 10-foot) rooms furnished with 1 bed, a table and a chair. For five cents each, five men would ‘flop’ crosswise on the bed and two would bunk on the floor.

In 1912, after 47 years in the family, Arthur decided to sell Levy’s and open the Poodle Dog Café. Over the years, the restaurant had a number of locations on Yates near Government Street. Arthur sold the cafe in 1941, but it remained popular with the locals and became a hang-out in the 1970’s. 

Royal BC Museum Archives

When Arthur owned it, the Poodle Dog Cafe menu items included: soup, halibut, flounder, salad with lobster mayonnaise, eastern oysters, chicken a la Maryland (fried), sweetbread patties, roasted young turkey, prime rib of beef, leg of mutton, Welsh rabbit on toast, assorted Canadian cheeses, browned sweet potatoes, cauliflower, stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes, oranges, grapes, apples, nuts ,raisins and black coffee. 

Arthur Levy also ran The Sandwich Shoppe in the 1930’s. He named the sandwiches after his family members. As his son Manny was uninterested in the restaurant business, Arthur closed the restaurants in the early 1940’s when he retired. 

Levy’s Meets Pagliacci’s
Thanks to twists in time, the Levy’s Restaurant of old has met and intermingled with the Levy’s of today. There are some overlaps between Levy’s Restaurant a popular Victoria restaurant located a few blocks away called Pagliacci’s.

When New Yorker Howie Siegel, first arrived in Victoria, he was unable to find the kind of restaurant he was used to from his youth. When they opened Pagliacci’s in 1979, Howie and his brother, David, transplanted a bit of New York to Victoria by featuring a Broadway-style cheesecake, and other classic menu items. Like Levy’s restaurant, Pagliacci’s has become a local favorite as well as a destination for tourists. Both restaurants provided entertainment: live birds and an early jukebox at Levy’s and regular performances by local musicians at Pagliacci’s.

The restaurants also share similar histories. Both had brothers as co-proprietors. When H.E’s brother, Joe, left Victoria, H.E. became the sole owner. He would later take his son, Arthur, into the business. H.E. and Arthur ran Levy’s until H.E. retired, leaving Arthur the sole proprietor. Today, after Howie’s brother, David, passed away, Howie took his son, Solomon, into the business. Solomon is now Paggliaci’s sole proprietor.

Both restaurants had a strong local following and were known by a shortened version of their proper name. Levy’s Arcade Restaurant and Chop Shop was called Levy’s and Pagliacci’s is known locally as Pags.

In 1986, Howie Siegel published an article about Levy’s Restaurant in the Jewish Historical Society Newsletter, now called The Scribe. H.E.’s great grand-daughter, Diana Eva Lofstrom still has a copy of the article in her files. Diana’s daughter, Danise, and her husband, Jeff, created Bruinwood Estates, a craft distillery specializing in Vodka and Gin. On a selling trip to Victoria, Danise stopped into Pags. She and Solomon discussed their mutual family history as restaurateurs. As a result, Pags now offers some selections of spirits from the Bruinwood Estates. And, iconic legacy pioneered by H.E. Levy still thrives today with gusto at its New York style equivalent in downtown Victoria.”

Information for this article came primarily from sources and photos provided by Arthur Levy’s granddaughter Diana Eva Levy Lofstrom.