SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE
A Wellington gem, East & Main Bistro, has closed its doors, ending a 14-year run offering a unique gastronomic experience to its many patrons.
Kimberly Humby, owner and operator, said “a multitude of reasons” led to the decision.
“I lost my partner and business partner, David [O’Connor], two years ago and that left a huge gap in the whole experience. Also, you have to eventually retire, and it was kind of nudged by the whole difficulty of COVID,” Humby said.
“Most significantly, the difficulties with staffing, and the rising costs of food, and everything that is required to operate a business were all a big factor.”
In a smaller community, she added, a thriving business needs viability, and the expensive economic landscape, both in the County and the province, made things difficult.
“It just means you have to work a lot harder and although that’s not foreign to me, it seemed like now is the time.”
“It wasn’t going to get easier.”
Ms. Humby, along with business partners Lynn Kennedy and Steve Sawyer, decided to close the business in March for renovations. During that process, Ms. Humby felt the need to move on.
“I wanted to make way for someone new to come in with fresh ideas and a fresh experience to offer the community because this community deserves that.”
After the news was posted on Facebook August 21, hundreds of comments flooded in congratulating the owners on an incredible business venture and sharing memories and stories of the beloved community hub.
Along with staffing challenges, Ms. Humby touched on the affordable housing crisis. She noted that unaffordability makes it difficult for folks who may want to move to the County for work opportunities. Though housing is a big topic of conversation, the situation never seems to improve.
Mark Rose, Picton Business Improvement Association Manager, agreed, saying when it comes to economic development locally, the main thing that needs to be fixed is a solution for affordable housing.
“There is nowhere for employees to live here. The service industry is the most pertinent industry affected by that. The Royal, which came in a couple of years ago, had to purchase another property to house their staff. Kudos to them, but it’s unfortunate that is the situation,” he said.
“It’s not just us. It’s tough across the province. Until the tides start turning, I’m afraid these problems are going to persist with respect to employees being lost and having to move all over for better opportunities. It’s not uncommon to work more than one job — in fact it seems to be becoming almost the new norm,” Mr. Rose added.
Creating a Common Meeting Place
Ms. Humby and her partner, who also operated Pomodoro a block away, where Creekside Café is now, moved to Prince Edward County 25 years ago. They had always wanted to have a business in Wellington.
“I saw the opportunity for growth and development there, with the wineries and farms out in the western part of the County. I always thought, as soon as I have the opportunity to secure a property there I’m going to grab it,” she said.
Part of the goal of East & Main was to foster a sense of community by building a common meeting space.
Evan Nash, Chair of the Wellington and District Business Association, spoke highly of East and Main, saying, “They had a wonderful business there for a lot of years. They were great community members.”
Mr. Nash added that tourism is significantly down this year, and so are revenues, but also noted that businesses who give back, to their staff and to their community, always tend to flourish.
Farm-to-Table dining offered “a total experience”
“We wanted to create a total experience, where guests could come in and sit down at a table right beside the person who made the wine they were drinking, or the farmer who grew the vegetables we were serving,” Ms. Humby said.
“Our goal was to connect everything that was happening in the County.”
She shared a story from the early business days, when a couple visiting Wellington came into the restaurant for dinner.
“I chose a bottle of Keint-He’s Pinot Noir for the table and, and they were absolutely enchanted with the wine. Now, this was completely unplanned. They were at a table close to the front of the restaurant, and I sat the bottle down on their table, started to walk away, and Geoff Heinricks walks in.”
“He looks around, as he does, and walks straight over, picks up the woman’s balloon wine glass, swirls it and smells it, places it down, and says, ‘Damn, that’s a good wine.’ After the couple looked at him, perplexed, he said, ‘I made that wine’,’’ Ms. Humby laughed. “It opened up this unique experience for them. They emailed me later on to tell me it was the most incredible connecting experience that they had ever had.”
“My passion for hospitality, the passion for gastronomical food and wine experiences, the art behind it, was in everything we did here. Prince Edward County has evolved to offer a sort of magic for folks coming in and for the folks who live here. I loved being a part of a network of people in the restaurant, arts, and accommodation community.”
“If you ask me what my legacy is, it is being a part of creating the landscape with a group of like-minded and talented people.”