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Service with a smile at North Delta’s Once in a Blue Moon

Local eatery is making its mark as a jazz diner but manager Janet Wells still wants the ’50s back
Once in a Blue Moon diner’s exterior feels nondescript, with its entrance on an industrial side street in North Delta, but inside the essence of classic jazz, swanky cocktails and belt-busting breakfasts come alive. (Grace Kennedy photo)

If you find yourself drawn down the industrial 95a Ave., just off Scott Road on a Sunday afternoon, it’s likely not for ES Auto Sales Ltd. — it’s closed. And it’s likely not for Stewart L Auto Electric, just a few doors down.

No, if you’re on 95a Ave. on a Sunday, it’s probably because of the sterile-looking sign beneath a blue roof: Once in a Blue Moon, Jazz and Diner.

“Everybody wakes up Sunday morning starving,” Trena Bennett, the front-of-house supervisor at Once in a Blue Moon, said laughing.

On an average Sunday morning, Bennett said, there are no seats left in the purple-walled, smooth-jazz-playing establishment, though when I tested out the local diner in mid-July that wasn’t the case.

Two couples were sitting in booths along the wall that used to look over into a Harley Davidson bike shop back when the space first opened as a diner — they had ordered breakfasts earlier, and were sipping coffees and eating pancakes.

I sat down at a table across from a stand-up piano and kitty-corner to the neon blue “Once in a Blue Moon” sign. An eager young waitress brought over a trifold menu.

If there had just been a few men in fedoras and billows of cigarette smoke wafting through the room, it could have been someplace Dean Martin might come for a schmoozy, low-key meal.

Breakfast took up nearly a full page of the three-page menu, although Korean barbecue, liver and onions, chicken karaage and specialty burgers also made an appearance.

I chose the Full Moon Junction, a morning meal that included two buttermilk pancakes, two pieces of bacon, two sausages, fried ham, two eggs (cooked over easy according to my preference), two pieces of toast and hashbrowns.

It came, as truly classic diner food does, in barely manageable quantities.

Heaps of hashbrowns salted and seasoned. Greasy, crispy sausage links. Dinner plate-sized pancakes that came on a separate dish. There was so much food the bacon was cold by the time I got around to eating it.

It was nostalgic food — the kind you imagine young couples ate in the ’50s, sitting across the table from each other while the girl carefully avoided getting spots on her poodle skirt — and it was good.

“It’s full of love,” said Janet Wells, field manager for Once in a Blue Moon.

Wells spends her time cooking up the diner’s meals, but she used to own the joint back when it was the ’50s-themed Blast N2 The Past.

“I love cooking and I love the kids,” Wells said about why she first opened the diner back in February, 2014. She used to work for B.C. Housing, but decided to keep busy after her retirement.

Business was “okay,” she said. “We had a lot of events, we had a lot of reservations.”

But it wasn’t enough to cover the exorbitant utility costs for the diner’s many kitchen appliances.

“We weren’t really told how much that would have been until we got our first bill for almost $4,000,” Wells said. “And that’s quarterly.”

“We stayed as good as we could,” she said, but the declining customer base wasn’t enough to keep her ’50s diner going. In late 2016, Young Sang Youn bought the building. He ended Wells’ contract, and her diner closed on Jan. 31, 2017.

It’s a sad story, she said, “but I’m here now.”

“Youn called me in February and asked me if he would reopen the diner if I would run it for him.” She paused, then lifted her arms up with a big smile on her face. “Yeah!”

“But, it wasn’t going to be a ’50s diner anymore, it as going to be a jazz diner,” she said, some disappointment in her voice.

“I went, ‘Oh, really? I liked the ’50s.’”

Under new ownership and with a new theme, the diner is keeping up. On Father’s Day, only one day after the official opening on June 17, there was a lineup out the door.

“Everybody that comes in here is pretty well North Delta,” Wells said. “We have Surrey people, you know, and friends and family and stuff.”

“But the support of North Delta is huge,” Bennett added, “and we really appreciate them.”

The number of patrons isn’t the only thing that’s changed. There’s now more seniors’ dinners on the menu, and items like Korean barbecue certainly weren’t there before. Wells is hoping the diner will get its liquor license in August, and she said Youn is hoping to bring in live music in the future.

Until that time, the stereo will keep pumping out smooth jazz tunes.

“Oh, I like it,” Wells said, in a voice that sounded as though she trying to convince herself, “it’s calming. But, you know, I sneak the [’50s] music once in a while.”

Bennett agreed. “Not going to lie, she does that.”

Soon, Wells is hoping to bring a bit of the ’50s back into the diner, with a 15- by 40-foot “nook” through a set of doors near the front of the building.

“It’s going to be all nostalgic,” Wells said. She’s planning to bring the old tables, chairs, 45s and photos into the new space, as well as a statue of Elvis, currently awaiting its Once in a Blue Moon debut in a North Delta garage.

“The ’50s was so calming,” she said. “You didn’t have as many worries as you do these days. A lot of people came in just to look around. They say it brings back memories. I know, and it’s gone right now.

“But,” her eyes brightened and her intensity grew, “I’m good at changing people’s minds.” She laughed.

Once in a Blue Moon had Eggs Benedict on special on Sunday, July 9. Word at the table was it was good, with warm shrimp and medium eggs on a ciabatta bun. (Grace Kennedy photo)
Once in a Blue Moon’s Full Moon Junction was such a large breakfast it came on two plates. This part features, sausages, bacon, fried ham, hashbrowns, over-easy eggs and two pieces of sourdough toast. (Grace Kennedy photo)
Once in a Blue Moon’s Full Moon Junction was such a large breakfast it came on two plates. This part features two buttermilk pancakes, with enough syrup to sink a small ship. (Grace Kennedy photo)