2020-01-01

Storied tavern in Chester up for sale

by Kevin Mcbain

  • <p>KEVIN MCBAIN PHOTO</p><p>Bob and Audrey Youden, owners of the Fo&#8217;c&#8217;sle Pub in Chester, are selling the business after owning it for more than 10 years.</p>

M@KMcBainLHNOW

It's like a cornerstone in the Village of Chester, and it's up for sale.

The Fo'c'sle Tavern has been owned by Bob Youden and managed by his wife, Audrey, whom he jokingly blames for having to put it up for sale, noting that she has worked at the tavern for some 50-plus years and "has decided that's enough."

The tavern, that has the distinction of being Nova Scotia's oldest, is listed on Tradewinds Realty for just shy of $1.5-million. It seats 250 people and is 6,600 square feet in size.

"It's been an institution in the village for generation after generation," said Youden in an interview with LighthouseNOW December 15. "When I first bought it, a local senior citizen came to me and said I hear that you bought the Fo'c'sle and I said yes. He replied, you know there are hundreds of stories about the Fo'c'sle and one or two of them are even true."

One of the stories he passed along was from many years ago. He said that at one time, Chester was the hub of shopping for the area with a half dozen hardware shops and mercantile enterprises.

"There was some violation of the liquor laws at one time and the penalty was to shut the pub down for a week. The ladies of the village petitioned the government to shut it down permanently," said Youden. "It was, but very quickly the other businesses suffered. Normally the women would go shopping and the men would come in and drink. So when they shut the place down the men wouldn't come to Chester anymore and would go other places where they could get a glass of rum."

He has been told that the other businesses re-petitioned the government to reopen the pub because they were losing so much of their business.

The building was built in 1764 and over that time has been used for many things such as a blacksmith shop, pharmacy, mercantile, stable, inn and hardware store.

Since purchasing the business, Youden says that running it has been a family affair all the way along. He brought in his son, Scott from the U.S. as the head chef and his daughter Penny as the front end manager.

Once the business is sold, Scott has his eye on another restaurant, and Penny is a stylist and planning on a return to that career.

He said that since taking over in the summer of 2009, they have made a few changes.

One of the major ones was shifting the focus to more toward the food. Another is making sure the local clientele is happy rather than concentrating on tourism.

"We've pushed notion of it being the village pub versus just a tavern. We've done nothing to emphasize liquor sales with the exception of wine with the food," he said.

"The food sales have gone up literally a thousand per cent and with that, the wine sales have gone up," added Youden.

Other changes include having a zero tolerance policy for those who choose to become belligerent.

"If you get out of line once, you're gone for life. The servers don't get paid enough to put up with belligerent clientele," said Youden, adding that before this change, the police were constantly being called. Now such an incident may happen once a year.

This has helped bring more families in, changing the atmosphere of the tavern."We have a loyal clientele and we made the decision when we bought it that we would focus any energy on the tourist industry at all."

This has helped the business stay open 364 days a year and they are able to keep staff all year, with about 23 people currently employed full-time making above minimum wage.

Youden says that he really isn't in a hurry to sell.

"Whether it takes three months or five years, we're prepared for whatever it may be. The business is doing well. We've won the best restaurant of the year for the past three years and we won the lobster chowder competition last year during the Lobster Crawl event," he said. "I personally hope that whoever comes in and takes over, kind of sees the same use that they want to continue it as a village pub. We need to find someone that wants to carry on the tradition."

Nor is Youden ready to retire just yet. He is a real estate developer with the company – M.A.D.E. for Mahone Bay Limited which keeps him busy. He currently has about 125 units in Lunenburg County, mainly for seniors.

He adds that they only live two blocks from the tavern and hasn't ruled out frequent visits. Audrey says that she will miss the daily interaction with people, but is looking forward to retirement and traveling.

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