Opening a business is challenging in the best of times, but mix in a global pandemic, government restrictions and dwindling consumer demand, and you've got a recipe for sleepless nights and exasperating days. John Belknap, owner and the 'John' of John & Sons Oyster House knew all of these things, yet still decided to open a 13-room roadside motel in Thornbury, Ontario.
For our new Industry Recovery episode, in association with George Brown College, we caught up with the restaurateur to find out how he went from operating a downtown Toronto seafood joint to creating an all-season motel, complete with on-site restaurant, coffee-shop-bar and a heated 40-seat patio.
After temporarily shuttering John & Sons, Belknap waited to purchase the dilapidated 1970s Penny's Motel when the pandemic was already in full swing. His decision to transform the motel into a boutique and colourful getaway wasn't something he had to do; instead, this huge project was something he willingly signed up for despite all the challenges COVID had already dealt.
"A ton of restaurants have closed and restaurateurs have been so focused on just surviving. This has been a saviour, mentally — having something to do and keeping positive," says Belknap.
Watch our video above to find out how Penny’s Motel said "get lost" to the pandemic and came to be.