Family put life savings into buying and restoring hotel in Canada but then COVID struck
For Mat and Kristin Dwyer, the decision to leave their life in Toronto behind to enter the world of tourism in Bruce County wasn't difficult after discovering they could purchase a 50-acre property in the Bruce Peninsula for less than what it would cost them for a one-bedroom condo in the city.
After pooling their savings with Kristin’s parents, the four of them purchased the Red Bay Lodge – which was originally built in 1949 – last October, with plans to restore the resort to its past glory.
After a long winter of renovations however, the COVID-19 pandemic now presents a very real threat to this dream.
“I can’t say I’m positive that we’re going to make it through this at all. How can we?” said Mat. “[The resort] has been operating as the heartbeat of the peninsula for 70 years and in seven months we managed to get into this position.”
We had so many big dreams, but they all depend on the property being a big, popular, busy space."
Mat says by March it was evident that they wouldn’t be opening for the spring as planned. Everything from guest bookings and events to suppliers and construction had to be cancelled within a matter of days.
“Everything in a seasonal business depends on those peak 60 days - everything - if you miss one weekend of peak summer that could be your equivalent of your entire year's profit,” Mat said. “It is why, honestly, most tourism businesses won’t succeed here.”
The 30-something couple are also expecting their first baby during this time and are due October 2, the date will also mark their one year anniversary in Red Bay.
They announced the pregnancy in the latest episode of their self-produced web series, A Lodge Made of Love, and Mat says they were overwhelmed by the support they received.
Pending government approval, the family aims to open in July for private group bookings of 15 to 50 of the entire lodge and hope to stay open year-round with openings for daily and single bookings starting in the fall.
With hefty operational costs and no current government support for their new business, Mat says there's a lot riding on them being able to open at some point this summer.
"We depended on that summer revenue to carry our costs to the next year," he said. "Our runway is getting shorter and shorter, nothing like seeing the cash flow cliff up ahead to motivate your efforts."
Despite, the countless hurdles however, Mat says he believes that things will work out for the Red Bay Lodge.
“It’s a rocky outlook on the future, but I’m confident that whatever happens here will be special, you can feel it when you're here.”
Mat and Kristin Dwyer
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