Canada's Maritime Provinces as a region is full of colorful community names, and uniquely named seasonal festival events. None more so than the Wharf Rat Rally event held in Digby, Nova Scotia in August.
Located in the center of this now famous 12th annual multi-day celebration Motorcycle Rally (August 31--September 4, 2016), sits the Digby Harbor-side Fundy Restaurant Complex. The Fundy Restaurant is a seasonal entertainment complex owned by Dean and Nancy Kenley and is action central for this popular visitor event.
Wharf Rat Rally is billed as Canada's fastest growing and largest motorcycle attendance event.
"We host a large number of seasonal events, but the Wharf Rat Motorcycle Rally is held over five days and attracts thousands of visitors. A few years ago an economic study estimated that the event generated $9.4M in an economic spin-off, and that number must be well over $12M now," says Dean.
"Our huge patio decks are part of the event attraction, and our water view restaurant complex is a focal point of people getting together over food and drink. Before I was in the food business, I was a building contractor. I just keep seeing ways to improve our restaurant as well as our rooms overlooking the harbor. Everything seems to grow a little because of my passion for building things," he says.
"Part of our success formula over the years, since we bought the restaurant in May of 1985, has been our willingness to keep investing in our business. The patio decks are huge and often filled. Our deck is 120 feet long in three seating sections overlooking the coastline water view. We have 6,200 square feet of glass and rail deck space, plus the inside restaurant seating areas for our customers".
The Fundy Restaurant Complex houses multiple dining sites, a killer view of Digby Harbor and the Bay of Fundy as well as room accommodations, kayak rentals, and is host location to many seasonal festival and visitor events. Think of a restaurant complex acting as a tourist resort attraction, and focused on a seafood-based experience for customers and you have the business formula.
"We have evolved the business over the years. At first, I concentrated on growing the Dockside Lounge. When the lounge business began to decline, we decided to convert an upper floor apartment into two rooms overlooking the harbor. Immediate hit. Now we have 11 water view suites, and nightly rentals are a big boost to our seasonal business volume".
"I do like to build things, and this winter I will build another room for next season's room rentals. Room rentals are now a big part of our success, which is due to gradually moving into accommodations, as the lounge became a smaller part of our business," he says.
"For restaurant dining, we have four separate eating areas and we can accommodate large groups and service them efficiently. We are a quick-causal restaurant, and 85% of our menu sales are seafood based. Digby is famous for being a seafood industry center, and we serve a large number of seafood items year round on our menu.
"We serve a full restaurant menu including pasta dishes, but seafood is our star attraction. The Bay of Fundy, is famous for seafood, and Digby Scallops are number one in the world. We sell huge amounts of Bay of Fundy scallops on our menu. We serve a lot of halibut and haddock as well, and we have a plentiful stock of clams for our customers.
"Our kitchen serves seafood grilled, seared, fried and some baked as well. Our Baked Haddock fillet in a filo pastry is popular. Also popular, is our Baked Lobster with 7 oz. of scallops inside”.
"Another part of our success formula is being on the water in the Bay of Fundy, which is world famous on its own as a UNESCO protected site. The cooler Bay of Fundy waters provides us with a superior lobster, and is famous worldwide for quality. Digby enjoys tourist traffic from both the Digby-Saint John, NB ferry service, as well as the Yarmouth-Maine, USA international service. Both ferry services are now under long-term contract. This 2016 vacation season is a record visitor year for us, says Dean."
"We are proud of our newest addition which is a two-thousand lb. live lobster pound maintained on our harbor waterside site. This fresh storage site is a huge promotional advantage for us as a seafood restaurant in maintaining fresh lobster choices for customers."
"We employ 50-60 on a seasonal basis, with 12-13 in the kitchen. When large events like the Wharf Rat Rally or the annual Scallop Festival is on, we add more contract workers. We will have nearly 90 employed over the Labor Day Weekend to serve the huge crowds at the motorcycle rally. We are open from 8:30am to 10:00pm daily in the restaurant, and in the bars from 10:00am to 12 midnight week days, and until 2:00am on Friday and Saturday nights."
"I do a bit of everything where ever the need arises including working in the kitchen during a rush. Nancy focuses on the staffing and scheduling requirements. Nancy's sister Kim Thibodeau has been with us since we started. Kim's husband Chris helps out during big events like the Scallop Festival, and will be here for the Wharf Rat Rally weekend.
Our four adult children have all worked in the business over the years, but none are active in the restaurant now.
"We have a website and social media presence on Facebook, which we use a fair amount. We are fortunate with our building location that we can use a large ten-foot billboard wall for updating messages at a street level in the Town to inform customers of specials.
We joined UNIPCO in the 90's, and they are a strong part of our growth. UNIPCO has been a good partner in our business success.
UNIPCO's staff monitors all of the suppliers' products and prices. It was mind boggling when I started, at the number of changes that I had to stay on top of for prices and keeping my suppliers' alert that I was watching my pricing. It was time-consuming. It is great to know that someone at UNIPCO is working on our behalf and monitoring product pricing and suppliers. Great help to our business," says Dean.