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Chester Chatter: Exclusive: Bob Youden Lists Oldest Running Pub In Nova Scotia – The Legendary Fo’c’sle Tavern

Dec 29, 2019 | Arts & Culture, Business, Real Estate

Attention Industrious Millennial Entrepreneurs & Others: Nova’s Scotia’s Oldest Rural Pub In Chester Is For Sale

By Andrew Macdonald

There’s a hot new real estate listing on exclusive offering by Tim Harris, in Chester: A real economic going concern:  The Fo’c’sle pub and eatery, in Downtown Chester.

Originally built in 1764, it has been a licensed establishment in the same continuous location since the wateringhole license was re-issued shortly after the Second World War.

Tim Harris, the realtor/broker has listed Bob Youden’s charming and legendary Fo’c’sle Tavern in Chester for $1.5 million. Tradewinds Realty photo.

The establishment “enjoys a commanding presence at the corner of Queen and Pleasant Streets, in the centre of the village of Chester”, says the Harris brokerage entity, Tradewinds Realty.

“As Nova Scotia’s oldest rural pub, in one of the province’s prettiest seaside villages, The Fo’c’sle offers its patrons a traditional maritime menu, year round”, says Harris.

Retired journalists, Dulcie Conrad and NS Giant of Journalism, Parker Donham, at the Midtown Tavern, which is one of three of the oldest pubs in NS, along with Chester’s The Fo’c’sle Tavern. The Notebook file photo.

“The tavern, over the years has often been compared to a British pub, with warm seasoned pine ceilings/ wainscoting, oak floors, and exposed beams/ posts, flows into a separate area for the family restaurant, overlooking Chester’s main business street”, adds the listing cut.

“Celebrations of all kinds (birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, retirements, and more) have taken place here, including the gathering of sailors, artists, sports teams, theatre goers, tourist and locals, all adding to the history of this character – filled building”, says Harris.

Tim Harris is the realtor/broker who has listed the charming Fo’c’sle Tavern in Downtown Chester, with an asking price of $1.5 million. Harris is seen in this Notebook file photo, on his current renovating project at his new mansion, Cavendish House, on Chester Front Harbour.

At one time it operated as an inn, stable, grocery store, and pharmacy.

“The second level includes a kitchen for the on-site bakery, along with plenty of storage”, says the sales listing.

“The sale will include The Fo’c’sle, a long established business, the building and all the contents, ensuring a smooth and convenient transition for a new owner”, says Harris.

“Consider acting on your entrepreneurial spirit … and settle into the wonderful lifestyle that the East Coast is known for world-wide!”, Harris states

The famous Chester Playhouse is near the Fo’c’sle Tavern. The Notebook photo.

“Chester offers a Playhouse, coastal golf course, skating/ hockey/ curling complex, Art Centre, day care, yacht club, and more, on Nova Scotia’s treasured South Shore – less than 50 minutes from Halifax and 30 minutes to the UNESCO town of Lunenburg.

The asking price: $1.499 million.

Because of prohibition, Nova Scotia’s oldest bars were founded circa 1949 – but the Chester establishment is the longest continuously located pub in its original building from the 40s.

Chester’s legendary wateringhole The Fo’c’sle Tavern is for sale. Tradewinds Realty photo.

The other two oldest pubs are found in Halifax -but both of them, including Bob & Colin Grant-owned Midtown Tavern, and the Victor Syperek controlled Seahorse Tavern were relocated to new buildings in the last decade.

The Fo’c’sle Tavern in Chester, as well as The Midtown Tavern and the Seahorse, both in Halifax, are the three oldest pubs in Nova Scotia, dating to the 1940s, after the War, when liquor licenses were re-issued. The Notebook photo.

To understand the business success of The Fo’c’sle Tavern, I caught up to its current owner, multi-faceted businessman, Bob Youden, who has controlled the pub with his wife, Audrey for the last 11-years.

The pub and restaurant business is a tough slog – the average industry standard for a pub or eatery is to record profits of four or five per cent on gross sales.

Youden tells The Notebook his pub and eatery out performs that industry average, although he decliend to reveal sales figures, he said the pub with 23 staffers is “profitable”.

Given its employment scale, the wateringhole can be considered a major employer in the Village of Chester.

The main drag of Chester, the Fo’c’sle Tavern is in the distance. The Notebook photo.

Anyone that frequents the spot will remember 11-year long veteran barkeep, Gordie Gillis, with his friendly nature, dispensing great life advice to patrons, and possessed of a permanent smile – he later would move back to Cape Breton – but paid a visit to The Fo’c’sle over the Holidays.

Owner Youden says the runaway success of the establishment is that it tends to typically cater to locals on the NS South Shore – and does not need to rely on seasonal tourist business to churn a profit annually.

“The reason we focus our business on the non-tourist business is that tourists do not come in November, January, February, March, April or May – but the locals do” Youden tells The Notebook.

The Fo’c’sle Tavern in Chester is being sold by owner Bob Youden. Tradewinds Realty photo.

“On a Thursday night in January we will have 300 people in for wing night – that is why we are successful. That is why the business is successful”, he adds.

“The tourists are fickle”.

Another pub has long been on the market in Chester, Front Harbour’s The Rope Loft, which supports its own marina.

“We don’t have a view plane like the Rope Loft, which has a great view down there – but they are only open five months of the year – we are open when there is a snow storm”.

The only time The Fo’c’sle is closed throughout the year is on Christmas Day.

“For the last three years, we’ve won the best restaurant competition in the whole Municipal District of Chester – which goes fromHubbards, to theWindsor Roadand down toNew Ross, and all the way to Martin’s River”, says Youden.

The Fo’c’sle Tavern is near the Kiwi Cafe. The Notebook photo.

“It is voted on by the whole municipality – and online voting thing – we think that is noteworthy”, he proudly tells me.

“We are the oldest bar in Nova Scotia it dates to after the Second World War when they re-issued the liquor license. To the best of our knowledge we are the oldest pub in the province remaining in the same place”, Youden points out.

Question: Why are you selling the wateringhole?

Youden replies to The Notebook: “My wife, Audrey has been running it for the last 11-years, and she is retiring”.

The Youdens have other diversified companies, including apartment buildings in Mahone Bay & Bridgewater, as well as a construction entity.

“The pub business is a very intensive business, you can’t just walk away from it. We operate everyday, except Christmas Day and my wife turns 72 on her upcoming birthday – and she has just decided she wants more time to do other things”, Youden notes.

The Fo’c’sle Tavern in Chester is on the market. Tradewinds Realty photo.

The Fo’c’sle is an institution in downtown Chester. “It’s a busy place. We have about 100,000 people a year as patrons – admitingly probably 20,000 of those folk are the same people coming in”, he chuckles.

Question: What are the annual revenues?

Youden replies: “That is private information. Let’s just say it is a profitable business well above the industry standards”.

As I stated above the pub and eatery average industry profit is tight, at 4-5% of total sales. “We’re doing better than that”, he tells The Notebook.

“We have a very loyal following, we don’t focus on tourists, all of our focus is on catering to the local clientele – and that is why we do a good business 12-months of the year”, says Youden.

The Fo’c’sle Tavern is for sale for $1.5 million via realtor/broker Tim Harris of Tradewinds Realty.

Question: What are the challenges to operating a pub and restaurant?

Youden replies: “Staffing. We have for the last five years, brought in folks in from the Philippines”.

One of the benefits to employing foreigners, is that The Fo’c’sle offers menu items based on original recipes from Filipinos, working as cooks and chefs at the eating and drinking establishment.

“We have three Filipinso items, entrees which tend to be some of our best sellers”, Youden tells me.

Question: What is the most popular beer brand that you retail?

The legendary Fo’c’sle Tavern in Chester is For Sale., Tradewinds Realty photo.

Youden says: “Fo’c’sle Ale. It out performs all other beer. It is made for us by Garrison Brewery in Halifax. They custom blend it for us – it is our number one seller, it out performs Coors and all the other beers”.

Garrison is owned by brewer Brian Titus, and was founded in 1997.

“We have the die-hard beer drinker – the traditional beer drinker. If you drink Schooner beer, then you drink Schooner beer. (Former barkeep Gordie Gillis) only drinks Olands and he won’t even try anything else”, Youden says.

“For us, name recognition for The Fo’c’sle is a big draw for us in selling our own beer. We also have a Fo’c’sle Dark Ale made for us by Liverpool’s Hell Bay Brewery – it sells well, because people come in and want to try our beer. Even though we don’t have our own in-house brewery, we arrange for others to do some product for us – and they are popular”.

The Fo’c’sle Tavern has a bar and eatery sections. Tradewinds Realty photo.

The Youden’s live in the Village of Chester, near Carol Hansen MacDonald’s Captain House.

“Our house is right next door to the Captain’s House, on the waterside”.

Question: What is the best food item you sell?

Youden replies: “The highest volume is haddock – pan fried haddock and fish ‘n chips. We do a full fillet with our fish ‘n chips – each piece is eight ounces – one fish is more than one person can eat”.

The fish is supplied by Lunenburg’s High Liner Foods, from its Battery Point fish plant.

“Because we have to have portion control, our fish comes from High Liner. We go through about 700 cases of fish per year”.

Question: Is your busiest period during the annual one week performance of Chester Race Week in August?

Youden replies: “Well, yes, but it is not as big a deal for us anymore. It use to be the biggest week of the year, but now we have in a 20-week period, it is no longer our busiest period. August is definitely the busiest month of the year – but Race Week for us is not that big anymore”.

The old time stories of debauchery at Chester Race Week, dating to as early as the 1970s as significantly been tamed down in more modern times.

“For us, when we bought the place 11-years ago, too often we had the flashing red and blue lights outside the building – and we immediately adopted a ‘zero tolerance policy’ – if your out of line once, you are out for life”, says Youden.

Question: Post a sale of the pub and eatery what are your other lines of businesses on the NS South Shore?

Youden tells The Notebook: “Well we have apartment buildings and seniors complexes. We also have a construction company – and three of our kids work in the business”, he adds.

The Fo’c’sle Tavern is for sale for $1.5 million. Tradewinds Realty photo.

“My son, Scott is a chef, he is a graduate of the Culinary Institute in New York. He is a 25-year veteran of the food business. My youngest daughter, Penny runs the front-end of the businesses, and my oldest daughter, Kelly, does the finances and books for our construction company and real estate rentals”.

“We have about 125 apartment units on the South Shore, in Mahone Bay, Lunenburg & Bridgewater – and we just purchased a large 14 acre tract of land in Bridgewater in the last year”.

“There won’t be a ‘For Sale’ sign going up on the building – but it is listed with Tradewinds exclusively with Tim Harris”.

Youden is currently trying to sell a part of his land tract in Bridgewater. “I am selling the northern half and keeping the southern half”, he tells me.

His realtor of choice on that tract of land in the South Shore’s capital town is Rick Foster, of Royal Lepage Atlantic.

That listing has an asking price of $469,00 and is situated at 654 Glen Allan Drive – ranging in size at 14.96 acres. See story on the lands elsewhere, below this article.

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