Lakefront restaurant will bring tourists to Goderich, says restaurateur

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HEATHER BOA, GODERICH News

July 23, 2013

When Herb Marshall looks across Goderich’s shoreline, he sees a much broader vision than a lakefront restaurant created by moving the former CPR station closer to the beach.

As he looks at the heritage building that is now perched on steel beams, awaiting its move west to a prepared patch of ground, he contemplates an attraction that will not just feed hungry tourists during the summer season, but will whet their appetite for a much longer stay in Goderich.

“We’re in a huge competition for jobs with every other municipality around us. We have to get more people here to see what a perfect spot this is. Who knows, maybe they’ll end up opening a business here. But you have to get them here first. And when you get them here, you have to give them an experience that’s memorable,” Marshall said.

Indeed, Marshall, 64, and his wife, Sherri, were tourists from Toronto, visiting the area for decades before purchasing the historic Park House restaurant in 2006.

Last year, he bought the CPR station from the town for one dollar and entered into a 20-year lease of municipally owned land beside Southpier Terminal’s weigh station. He hired Sommer Brothers Construction as general contractors.

The CPR station has architectural and cultural significance, with its hipped roof over the central portion and a cross-gable and lunette trackside. Restored slate tiles top the cupola of the round waiting room. Original interior features include a true ceiling with three large medallions, wooden screens, interior doors, fixtures, trim and decorative plaster. On August 3, 1988, the last train stopped on the bridge to blow its whistle for a final time.

The new restaurant, which will be named Beach Street Station, is scheduled to open in May 2014. It will maintain the historic features of the former railway station, with an interior tastefully decorated with memorabilia. There will be seating for about 300 people, spread out over the former baggage area with the addition of a sunroom, round turret area that will serve as a breakfast nook and coffee bar through the day, catwalk running through the middle of the restaurant, and two outdoor patios. He would like to install a banquet tent next summer that will seat 250 people.

For comparison, the Park House seats 95 in the main restaurant, 68 on the patio, 35 in its dining room and 72 upstairs, for a total capacity of 270.

“What I did was I tried to extrapolate from my own business whether it was viable from May to October” to carry it through the off-season, Marshall said.  “I never approach anything I think I’m going to lose money on. But I never got into this thinking it was going to add a significant number of zeroes to my net worth. Do I believe that this is a venture that will pay for itself and the answer is yes.”

Now that he’s crunched all the numbers, he knows it will work.

“I’ve stopped waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. I wake up now and I don’t go back to sleep just because I have things on my mind. I see it and I believe it,” he said.

Even though he knows it’s a good idea, Marshall said he will have to validate the idea to others.

“I’m going to prove that it works for everybody, that everybody is happy with it. I’m not trying to steal from myself or from any other food provider in town. My objective is to have that place full to overflowing so they come to town, they can’t get in and they’re going everywhere else,” he said.

When he’s done that, he’ll begin work on a plan to expand the restaurant to include a convention centre, banquet facility, hotel and theatre.

“That’s all way out there, blue sky thinking. But that’s how things happen,” he said.

For now, he’s focused on the building’s move from its current location to the leased land, which is scheduled to take place next Tuesday.

This week, the CPR station that currently rests on 100-foot steel beams will be slid to the west in a job orchestrated by Laurie McCullough Building Moving, of Whitby, which specializes in historic and masonry buildings. It will be set upon a dozen or so 50-ton dollies that are hydraulically controlled in order to keep the building stable. They will be hitched to a tractor trailer and pulled down an excavated path, then swung around to wait for two more foundation walls to be completed before it’s set into place.

The project has created much talk among tourists, historians and residents who wander down to the waterfront to watch the project.

“The support has been fantastic. I haven’t heard one criticism. It’s just been huge, huge support. And I’ll make sure they get what they think they’re getting,” Marshall said.

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