Kimberly Humby and David O’Connor were ready to start a hospitality business in The County way back in 2005. Their plan was to buy the ill-fated brick church on Picton’s main street. They lost the church to another offer (and the town lost it when the new owners tore it down) but the couple held onto their dream. Oddly enough it was a broken ankle that kicked their idea back into play. Today they co-own TWO restaurants in Wellington: East and Main with a French foundation and a County fresh focus, and Pomodoro an Italian-style trattoria, just a few steps away. They also run East and Main Catering and have created holiday accommodation above both businesses for extra revenue. Kimberly and David told us how it came to pass:
Kimberly: “East & Main is seven years old and Pomodoro turned four on Valentines Day, 2016, but we bought our house here 11 years ago. Our plan for a comedy dinner club with maybe a microbrewery in the church basement didn’t work out, but we never stopped looking for opportunities. I used to run Fat Cat Bistro in Toronto and David sold wine for Rodgers & Co. We wanted to follow our passions and we wanted to do it here.
We first came to The County to visit our friends, Lily and Michael Sullivan (editor: chefs at, respectively, Waupoos Winery’s Gazebo Restaurant and the Merrill Inn.) That was just before Canada Day, and by August we had bought a house! We were bewitched. Couldn’t believe it. Really, really wanted to start a business here. But the church fell through, (editor: literally!) we got distracted and we had to keep living and working elsewhere.
In 2009 I was finishing a work contract when David broke his ankle. It forced us to stop and think. And we thought, What the Heck – let’s move – we bought into Prince Edward County for a reason and we’re not focusing on it. David discovered the East and Main property for sale while he was still on crutches. It’s been a restaurant for years and was then a combo bulk food store and café. He liked the feel of it and we put in a serious offer.”
David: “What did we love about The County? Everything. The landscape and, of course for me, the wine industry which was still pretty small back in 2004. I wanted to be part of it. We considered starting a vineyard but that was a bit rich for our blood. Speaking of rich, the communities here are rich with a sense of place, rich with identity and increasingly opportunity. Everybody we met absolutely loved where they lived. That was encouraging.
I was attracted by the wonderful access to seasonal foods. We missed the asparagus season the first year, but we had Hagermans and Honey Wagon organic stand was in full flight. It was a cornucopia of fresh vegetables and fruit. How could you not love it?”
Kimberly: “Our house deal closed Nov. 30 and the very next day there were Northern Lights in the sky. It was like a welcoming committee. Like magic in the sky!
The biggest difference we noticed was traffic! Lack of. We relaxed. When we left Toronto, the parking police were actually ticketing you as you walked to the ticket machine! And running a restaurant I had directly felt the frustration of bureaucracy and politics. Starting a business is simpler here. The big challenges are always around provincial regulations, but it felt easier here because we got encouragement from councillors and other business people – and things really did move faster than they do in the city.
In hospitality, seasonality is a challenge. But, hey, it was a challenge for me in Forest Hill, too, because in summer everybody disappeared to their mansions in Muskoka! Just kidding. But I did have exposure to high season, low season and having to win loyal local customers.
We heard from local businesses you basically had six months to make your income. But that was 10 years ago. Now it’s more like eight months, and the remainder is not so slow you have to shut down. Unless you WANT to have four months off! You wouldn’t recognize East and Main from the day we opened. This year is our best ever. Weather plays a part, but I think it’s going to end even better.”
David: “Yes, things are building all the time. Would we take on another start-up? We’re content with what we have, and we’re busy, but, yes, there’s always the chance. We’d take that risk, because we’re sure it would be worth it.”
Kimberly: “My advice to anybody thinking of moving or starting a business here. Get to know the community. Get to know how the municipality works, who are the suppliers, who are the customers. A good way is to find employment in your field here. In hospitality that’s not hard at all. Understand all the partnering and how YOUR industry works here.
A lot of like-minded people here support business and encourage others. That sense of community David talks about extends to people genuinely helping you, through advice and physical help, too.
Property is more expensive now than when we came, but if you’re coming now is a good time to do it! Most entrepreneurs use part of their house as an office or part of their business.”
David: “There’s a lot of change in The County, a lot in Wellington. We’ve got some great new businesses, and good business brings more good business. But start-ups definitely have to be mindful of what’s unique about The County – what attracted them, the reasons they came. People are watching closely to make sure growth doesn’t threaten those good things. My advice? Do your research. It’s a small community – wherever you go. And you WILL be part of it, regardless of what you do, so try to ensure you’re in step with neighbours and other businesses.
You know what else I’m noticing? Lots of babies! It’s a great place to raise children. So many things bring people together and make you want to stay. Smaller schools, the beach, the park. People know you in the street. It makes you want to put down roots. It would be great to get more professionals down here, doctors, dentists, it’s a definitely a high demand area.
One thing that got me interested in Prince Edward County was Geoff Heinricks’ book A Fool and Forty Acres. I was mesmerized by the idea of an emerging wine region. And he was right. We make very special wines that reflect the terroir and the passion of the winemakers.
That’s part of the success of this region. It attracts enthusiastic people. And you know what? I don’t know why more young folk don’t work in The County wine industry – because you can train and take that talent and use it worldwide. It’s a huge opportunity. How’s that for advice?”
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