PORT HOOD: Anyone visiting Port Hood these days is likely to notice hammers swinging as local businesses have taken advantage of a funding program that looks to make sure the coastal community is a prettier place.
The Port Hood facade program is in full swing, which means local landmarks like the Admiral Beverage Room and Grill, D.F. Beaton Service Centre, and the Hebridean Motel are in the process of sprucing themselves up. In total, 16 businesses are projected to participate.
“For every dollar a business or commercial building invests in eligible exterior improvements, our program reimburses them 50 cents of that – of the subtotal, not the GST,” said facade and streetscape program project coordinator, Melanie Beaton.
“They also get the benefit of going through a design process.”
The on-sight work is being done by a number of different contractors, but the design work is headed by David Greenwell of M3D DesignWorks Inc. Greenwell is in charge of structure, and he’s assisted by Emily Benjamin (colour) and Emily Rankin (signage).
The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) is footing the bill for the largest portion of the project, with that group’s total sitting at $607,929. The municipality is also chipping in $54,253. In terms of the private sector, a total of $344,000 is being put down. In-kind contributions total $19,980. The total financing sits at $1,026,162.
Not all of that money is going into renovating the community’s businesses. Some of the money is earmarked for signage to promote Port Hood as the beach capital of Cape Breton.
The Reporter recently took a drive through the community to visit with some of the business owners in the process of beautifying their property.
Taking a drive up Route 19, the first business visitors are likely to notice is Sandeannie’s Bakery and Tea Room. The eatery is located just a few minutes’ drive from the turn-off into Port Hood.
Run by Sandy and Bernadine (Deanie) Rankin, the business has been going strong for eight years and employs upward of 10-11 workers in the summer and five or six in the winter.
“Our business is doing well, and we’re hoping this will improve it even more – make it a little more appealing,” Deanie said of the renovations, adding that new paint and lighting are just some of the improvements.
“We’re going to get some new signs on the building, a bike rack, window boxes, and we’re going to put some trim on to make the new paint really pop. We aren’t doing as much as some of the other businesses in the area, but we still have a lot going on.”
“Plus, we put a bit of seating outside – a bench,” added Sandy, who pointed out the food is still the biggest draw for the tea room.
“The food’s got to be good,” he said. “I’m not cooking it.”
He added that the bakery really helps the business stay on top. With that, Sandeannie’s now offers frozen dinners and frozen pies, which seems to be really taking off.
The restaurant focuses on breakfasts and lunches, and generally closes at 3 p.m. However, Deanie sometimes puts on special dinners in the fall and winter. She is a Red Seal certified chef.
Another well-established business in the village is the Ceilidh Fisherman’s Co-op, which has three brick-and-mortar buildings in the renovation process. The co-op has a store where fish can be purchased, a managerial building next to it, and a third building located at Murphy’s Pond where the product is landed.
“There’s still a roof to go on this building,” said manager Bernie MacDonald, taking to The Reporter in the managerial building. “The front of the store has to be done yet, and there’s new siding going on there matching this office. Our signage is also arriving soon. Murphy’s Pond is done already. We have a few doors, windows, and a new roof.
“It’s a huge help,” MacDonald said. “It’s not too often you get to do repairs and get subsidized on it at the same time. It’s very helpful. It’s a good program.
“We’re getting compliments already, and it’s not even finished yet,” he said.
Also making some time for a chat with The Reporter was Patricia VanZutphen, the owner and operator of the Clove Hitch Bistro and Four Mermaids Gift Shop. She was joined by her battalion leader in the kitchen, Red Seal Chef Jason Sampson.
“We have new signage on the front, and the entire restaurant has been gutted,” Sampson said. “And the outside was entirely changed.”
“It just kept going,” VanZuthpen said of the renovations, noting that the program allowed her to get new doors, new windows, new siding, a new deck, and a new roof. “It kind of brought the two businesses together. That was the goal for us. Now, we have one main entrance where you go left to the gift shop and right to the bistro.
“It’s very clear now that the two businesses are on site.”
In addition to the renovations, there are other changes coming to the VanZutphen business. The plan is to keep the bistro open through the winter, and the gift shop will be open to Christmas.
“It will definitely be open,” VanZutphen said. “It’s not something we’re going to just try. We’re in and committed to be open.”
Sampson said he and VanZutphen feel that customers will come if they know they are in store for good food and, in many cases, good music. The bistro is equipped with a stage that allows musicians to come and play.
Sampson, who’s been the head chef for five years, has four core staff working with him in the kitchen, and that doesn’t include the support staff. All told, upwards of 25 people work at the two businesses in the busiest times of the season.
“That’s the other great thing about being open all year,” VanZutphen said. “Staff here has full-time employment, which is a really great thing.”
Sampson said the key to having a successful menu is to keep purchases local, and he noted the restaurant prides itself on locally-bought seafood and food from sources like the Cape Breton Food Hub.
“Every year, we’ve had growth,” VanZutphen said. “It’s so encouraging. You never know what’s coming your way in the restaurant business.”
Sampson added that the steady improvements made at the Clove Hitch are very encouraging, given the nature of the business.
“Anyone who opens a restaurant and is an immediate success, stop buying lottery tickets,” he said. “You’ve already won.”