Written by Janet Davies
Before the Drake Devonshire Inn opened in 2014, before it appeared in Paris Vogue and just about every other destination publication, Chris and Jessica were working behind the scenes. When it finally opened, they were the innkeepers welcoming visitors in. Although, as they sank their roots deeper into County soil, they have left the hip vibe of the hotel to pursue other adventures, The Drake was undeniably their pathway to Prince Edward County.
Chris began working with The Drake in Toronto in 2008, and Jessica worked there part-time “in between my babies,” she says wryly. They are both from the East Coast and met as theatre majors at Dalhousie before moving to the bright lights of Toronto where, as theatrical hopefuls often do, they worked in restaurants, hospitality and the music industry. “We’re a good team,” says Chris. “We opened a few restaurants for other people before I joined the management team at The Drake.” When their first son was born they began thinking about getting back to a smaller community, and when The Drake Devonshire project came up Chris says, “We made it our mandate to be the ones to come out and open it. We were passionate about it, we put in the work and we earned it.”
Years before, they had visited Prince Edward County quite by chance, not really registered where they were. “We had lunch beside the lake in what is now The Duke of Wellington with not another soul around. It was so peaceful and beautiful, and we thought how can we possibly get to live in a place like this?” Five years later, they got their chance – but it was a bit of a roller coaster ride. “There was a long delay in opening,” says Chris, “because the structural work was more complicated than anticipated. We gave up our home in Toronto and moved here expecting to open in about three months but it took two years.” As they waited for the building to be finished, Jess and the children stayed in Wellington while Chris went back to the city to help open the Drake One Fifty restaurant.
“During the months of building we were not very involved,” says Chris. “But Jess was here, getting settled, making sure the correct messages were getting out about The Drake,” which was sometimes easier said than done. “At times I was responsible for security,” she says. “People were very curious and we had to physically keep off the property during construction and out of dangerous areas.
Their move to Wellington was a huge change after 14 years in Toronto. “It was scary. We didn’t know anybody,” says Jess. “But when we pulled up in the moving truck and opened the back, hordes of people appeared to help. Stew Jones invited us over for dinner that night. Evan Nash helped us unpack and brought over a case of beer. It was amazing.” Having worried about long, lonely winters, Jess says, “We were actually exhausted by the end of winter! There were lovely house parties and lots of things happening. People work their butts off here in summer and then relax and visit in winter.”
After holding the reins at The Drake Devonshire for a year the couple left to go it alone, partly because of a desire to live a more truly rural lifestyle. “You might say we went native!” laughs Chris. “We were nervous about leaving The Drake,” says Jess. “Could we really make it here on our own? But the fact is a lot of opportunities presented themselves, and continue to.” Chris says, “I was a consultant for 18 months for The Royal Hotel, being restored in Picton. I helped them build budgets and plan staffing. That’s going to be an amazing place, but it’s still a way off and I couldn’t consult forever although I do hope to work with them in the future.” Currently, Chris is Live Events Coordinator at Picton’s historic Regent Theatre, a non-profit organization, and is gearing up to take over running the restaurant at Picton’s golf club, spectacularly located overlooking Picton Bay.
AND WHAT ABOUT JESSICA?
“Well, I started my own pie company called My Pies!” she laughs. “That’s something I definitely could not have done in Toronto, not without a lot of money. Now I’m kind of known as The Pie Lady of Prince Edward County. My friend Rebecca Hunt runs Picnic PEC, a food truck, and I worked a summer with her. I made some of my own pies for a catering gig and they went over really well, so I started baking dinner pies and delivering them. I do dessert pies, too, but my main thing is savoury pies.” She explains her thinking. “There are a lot of older people in Wellington. I figured small pies that were just right for a ready meal would be popular, and I was right. I began to take orders and deliver right to their homes and then it grew beyond Wellington.” Everything was going very well … until something went very wrong.
“Christmas was coming. We had just moved and were pulling up gross carpets and putting down laminate floors,” says Jess. “I took the last few pieces of flooring to the garage intending to cut them to size, but I somehow managed to cut off my fingers. It put a damper on Christmas and my business, too,” she says with monumental understatement. “We were back and forth to the hospital in Kingston for eight weeks to repair the damage,” says Chris. “It was a very scary time, but also a wonderful time. The support we got was overwhelming. Jessica has put a lot of energy into her business and into the community, too, donating pies, helping at events as well as delivering pies to people all over The County. People knew what she’d done for others and now they were paying her back. They brought us food, gave gas cards to help with the driving, people we don’t even know would check on us to see if we needed anything. It was humbling and very wonderful.”
“I’d say it’s the number one thing living here,” says Jess. “If you get to know the people, you soon feel at home. Whatever effort you put into this place, you get it back many, many times over.”
WHAT’S IN THE FUTURE
“I will be baking my pies,” says Jess firmly. “Having a commercial kitchen is an issue, but I discovered the Essroc Arena, which is the Wellington community centre, rents out their kitchens. Rebecca uses them and now so do I. Before my mishap I was getting very busy with just me doing all the work, and I knew I’d have to rethink things. I want to grow, but I don’t want to take on too much expense. I would LOVE to have a commercial kitchen of my own, in fact I’m kind of scared somebody else will come along with more money than me and beat me to it, because dinner pies are very popular.” Chris breaks in, “Ah but your pies are the best!” Jess continues, “Delivering pies built my reputation, but it’s not really feasible if I want to grow. I could take on more bakers. I get calls asking for 30 pies for an event by the weekend,” she laughs, “I say how long does it take YOU to make a pie? That’s how long it takes me!” She had to learn to freeze to meet demand and confides that she has customers who come to weekend homes who call her to say what time they are arriving and ask to have a pie warm and ready for them in their oven. “That is custom service,” she says. “That’s a whole other thing.”
She already sells her wares at Wellington’s The General store and will be baking for the Golf Club Grill this summer when she and Chris take over running it. “We are excited about that,” says Chris. “It’s such a beautiful location. Jess and I are working on a Members’ Appreciation program, we have a lot of experience in Loyalty Programs. This is something we can really get our teeth into. We want to attract people who are not members, too. We’re creating the menus, hiring the staff.” Jess adds, “We have all sorts of special events in mind, we’re thinking clam bakes and dances.” Hospitality is in their blood, and in The County the opportunities just keep coming.
MAKE EYE CONTACT
Asked what advice they would give to people contemplating a move to The County, Jess says candidly, “Be honest with yourself. It’s definitely quieter here. The city has more restaurants, more entertainment and if you want and need endless variety you will miss that.” Chris takes a different approach with his advice. “Make eye contact! It’s the total opposite to how you behave in a city.” Jess agrees. “Coming from the East Coast, I used to make a lot of eye contact in Toronto and say hello and I’d get a line of crazies following me down into the subway. I learned to be more discreet because that’s self preservation in the city. In the country it’s the other way round. It’s self preservation to be friendly, get to know people, say hi, make eye contact.”
With their two sons in school and the prospect of buying the home they currently rent, the Loanes have made themselves at home. Ironically they now worry about the ballooning success of The County. “I know that we have been part of that,” says Jess. “The Drake brought an awful lot more attention to Prince Edward County, particularly to Wellington, and it’s getting harder to find anywhere to buy. But I believe the people who actually move here, who make it their home, are as passionate about protecting The County as people who’ve lived here all their lives. We don’t want to see the things we love disappear, the communities are so strong here and that will help to protect things.” Chris nods in agreement. “There are some people here who are buying affordable properties and deliberately reselling them at the same price, or adding just enough to cover any fixing up, because they want to attract and keep families here.”
The Loanes say Jessica’s horrific accident has really opened their eyes. “This is a genuinely selfless community,” says Chris. “People have offered so much help. It makes you realize what is important in life. Jess sort of feels guilty all the time now, wondering how she can ever repay them.” The answer is obvious – by being engaged, connected community members themselves – and with PIES!
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