After close to 22 years, Dave Willoughby has sold the iconic pub that bears the name of his grandfather.
Doc Willoughby's opened up on Kelowna's Bernard Avenue over Grey Cup weekend in 1999, and it's since become one of the city's longest running establishments, and a beloved music venue for local bands.
Last week, Willoughby announced he had sold the bar to Kyle and Carolyn Nixon – former owners of the Hotel Eldorado who have since turned their attention to BNA Brewing Co., and more recently, Skinny Duke's Glorious Emporium.
“It's kind of like a bird flying away from its nest, it's very scary to know that it's in somebody else's hands, but I trust the stewardship of the Nixons,” Willoughby said.
Willoughby says while the pandemic has been challenging for the pub over the past year, it was not the reason for the sale.
“We've been looking for the right opportunity to transition Doc's to new ownership,” Willoughby said. “Kyle and Carolyn Nixon created some wonderful establishments in town, I've known the Nixon family for many years ... I have a high level of respect and understanding for the kind of places they like to run, and I do feel that they are the ideal kind of person to carry the torch to the next level for Doc Willoughby's.”
He added that he believes once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, it will be an “exciting time for downtown Kelowna.”
Willoughby first came to Kelowna to help launch Tree Brewing in the 90s, but in 1999, he partnered with Peter and Susan Schultz – the owners of Kitchen Cowboy, Doc's predecessor.
“Doc Willoughby's was a name that just came up in conversation and we had a lot of history on my grandfather and it kind of represented a lot of things that we wanted the pub to reflect, which was strong family values and an eye for heritage and I think that's what we've done,” Willoughby said.
“Over the years we've grown within this building and it was definitely a lot of changes, but they were all kind of incremental.”
Willoughby says over the two decades of running the place, the people and relationships stand out the most to him.
“Doc's has become a gathering spot, a place that's in the heart of Kelowna, a place that people can meet others and become couples and carry on with families,” he said. “We have been instrumental in putting a lot of couples together and that is something that is really unique to Doc's and really hearkens back to the whole family values thing.”
He noted that many staff at the pub work there for upwards of 10 years.
For those worried about losing their favourite pub, Willoughby says it's not going anywhere.
“I think they respect the space here at Doc's and what we have created and I don't think things are going to change too dramatically, but of course with new ownership comes new ideas and trying new things and Im pretty excited about what they're going to do,” he said, adding he hopes the Nixons will develop the upstairs loft area of the pub, which is currently used for storage and as a “green room” for bands.
Willoughby says he's warned the Nixons that he still plans on being a regular customer at the bar.