Hungry tourists on the Cabot Trail discover they’d rather eat early – or not at all

Hungry tourists traveling the Cabot Trail this summer may be surprised to learn that most restaurants close near dusk – or close entirely on certain days of the week.

These inconsistent hours of work have some tourism professionals on the island in question.

Terry Smith, CEO of Destination Cape Breton, told CBC Main Street Cape Breton Wendy Bergfeldt hosts that the restaurant’s limited hours are a result of staff shortages and staff housing shortages in communities across the island.

He says companies are trying to do their best with the employees they have.

“Sometimes they close their doors for a few days a week. If they serve three meals a day, they may not offer breakfast anymore,” he said.

Smith said some workers have left the restaurant industry during the pandemic shutdowns and are now working in other sectors, leaving an employment gap that must be filled.

He said Destination Cape Breton, Cape Breton Partnership and the University of Cape Breton’s Global Tourism Institute are looking for solutions to staff shortages and hope to have a plan in place by fall.

“If we can’t address it, it will only damage our reputation as a destination. So we really have to do everything we can to find tangible solutions for it,” he said.

Old Believers

Brookside Takeout in Ingonish opens later than most other restaurants in the area, which means hungry visitors stop by late at night. (Provided by Noel Donovan)

But there is at least one place that is open late at night. The Brookside Takeout in Ingonish operates seven days a week – a rarity in the area – and bears the brunt of hungry visitors.

“We’re Old Believers, we’re always there,” said Noelle Donovan, who has been working at The Window for six seasons.

Donovan said tourists are thrilled when they finally find a place open after dark.

Tourist organizations in Cape Breton are concerned that shortening the opening hours of restaurants on the Cabot Trail could damage the area’s reputation as a desirable destination. (Destination Cape Breton)

She laughs, “They went, ‘Oh my God, we’re so glad you’re here.'” Thank you for feeding us.”

Donovan said the staff shortage has forced restaurants to cut back hours or close on Sundays, Mondays or Tuesdays. This means dozens of people end up in Brookside, looking for food when most other places are closed.

It makes busy nights.

“We can go three hours straight, say 6 to 9, nonstop, nonstop, getting hit like big time,” Donovan said.

She said if other businesses stay open a little later, it will take the pressure off her small staff of four.

I lost the chance

Dan Coffin, Victoria County Tourism Director, talks to hotel operators who see visitors descend on their doorsteps and want something to eat.

While visitors from larger urban areas may be accustomed to eating at 9 p.m., Coffin said rural businesses don’t have residents to withstand long hours.

Coffin said some restaurants in the Ingonish area are working together to switch the days of the week they are closed. Instead of closing everyone on Monday, some chose to close their doors on Thursday.

“Maybe they lost a little money, but decided to open Tuesday instead because no one else was open on Tuesday and they wanted visitors to have a choice,” he said.

One solution, Coffin said, might be this kind of community collaboration, or setting up grab-and-go stations for late-night visitors.

“I think there is a missed opportunity in many areas,” he said.

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