From the Heart

Avenue Bistro in Comox blends urban atmosphere with community spirit and “feel-good” cuisine

Avenue’s impressive drink list was the pet project of Torrie Howlett.

Avenue’s impressive drink list was the pet project of Torrie Howlett.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Avenue’s impressive drink list was the pet project of Torrie Howlett who, along with fellow front-of-house manager Alistair Logan, makes up what Viney refers to as the “Dynamic Duo.”  Howlett was instrumental in the growth and success of Atlas Café, and the young foodie is certainly playing a lead role in Avenue’s ascension of the Comox Valley’s culinary scene.

Viney and McIntyre have worked hard at Avenue, as at Atlas, to create a tightly knit crew that feels and acts like family.  When the management team sits down for a meeting, friendly verbal jabs are fired back and forth across the table like brussels sprouts at a family gathering, eliciting laughter and the occasional groan of embarrassment.  Viney, a quick-thinking Aussie whose sarcastic wit is as sharp as her style, usually lands the most jabs, but it’s clear that “creating that family extension” among her staff is something she takes very seriously.

“Combined, we have about 80 employees,” she says, referring to the staff of both Avenue and Atlas.  “I feel as though a big proportion of our role is setting up two businesses that have a really healthy culture that inspires people to have great work ethic and be passionate about what they do.”

The extension of that familial philosophy is a strong sense of community-mindedness that Viney and McIntyre both embrace.  Over the years the duo has supported local high schools, sports clubs, hospital fundraisers and a long list of community organizations and initiatives.  

“We’ve always had a community mandate,” says McIntyre.  “Instead of spending money on advertising, we took our budget and basically cut it in half and put that other half into the community.”  While Avenue has undoubtedly benefitted from its association with Atlas, which has won so many awards it’s hard to keep them all straight, Viney and McIntyre acknowledge that it’s time now for Avenue to develop its own reputation.

“A lot of people were disappointed that Avenue was not a second Atlas,” says Viney.  “But we went into it wanting to create a different approach and a different style of cuisine.”

“What we are doing is branding a product,” McIntyre adds.  “Atlas is its own brand and Avenue is its own brand.  We want to have similarities between the two restaurants, yet have them stand on their own.  We spent 14 years building up a brand at Atlas and we’re in year two building up a brand at Avenue.  It takes time to build a brand, and time is really the secret of success in this business.”

Viney and McIntyre have big plans in store for Avenue, not the least of which is the installation of soundproof tiling along one wall to cut down on the noise level during peak hours.

“A lot of new restaurants around the world are being built in the modern design fashion, but noise has been a problem,” acknowledges McIntyre.  It turns out to be quite a common problem with new restaurants; the lines are so clean that the noise just bounces off the walls.  It’s something that no one really thinks of until you open the doors and jam the restaurant.”

Whatever structural or cosmetic changes may be in store for Avenue, the true secret to its success, regardless of what McIntyre says about time being key, will likely be the sense of family and kinship that its welcoming ambiance already exudes.

“I think that once you get to having a relationship with the staff and a relationship with the menu,” says Viney, “you’ll see that we’re coming from our hearts.  It’s a casual place, the people here are passionate about what they do and it’s infectious to be around.”


Avenue Bistro is located at 2064 Comox Avenue and is open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, with breakfast served on weekends.  For reservations call 250-890-9200.


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