Downtown Kingston’s Whiskey & Rosé uses market data and funding to reinvent a historic pub
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo
For nearly two centuries, the Queen’s Inn has been a staple in Downtown Kingston, frequented by thirsty locals and wandering tourists. So when Sarah Roth saw the building was for sale, she says she knew she needed to do something special with it. Roth and Chef Amanda Finkle had become close during the pandemic. “I asked Amanda if she'd be interested in bringing her Hey Darlin’ Diner restaurant concept to the building,” says Roth. “Then we started doing some planning and brainstorming, and I said to her: what do you think about two restaurants?”
Finkle was quick to get behind the idea, and the pair began building out the concepts under the Whiskey & Rosé – Hey Darlin’ Diner—a casual diner with a modern flare, and The Pearl Wine Bar, which caters to a more professional crowd.
As they started coordinating the renovations, Roth says they realized if they renovated the whole space at once, they would miss the summer season. So they focused on turning the existing pub into a pop-up restaurant called Whiskey & Rosé. “Amanda came up with a new menu, new cocktail concept – really a new brand – within a short period of time in March.”
Around that time, a friend introduced them to Victoria Condlln Smallridge, the My Main Street Ambassador for Downtown Kingston. The My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program aims to revitalize business communities through hands-on support. The program is funded with a $23.25-million Government of Canada investment through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and delivered by the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO). Condlln Smallridge says she was drawn to the Whiskey & Rosé owners’ “mission-driven approach.”
Photo by: David Simon, Sandbox Photovideo (Maggie-Jane Turner)
“They have a really inclusive menu so that just about anyone can eat there,” says Condlln Smallridge. Whiskey & Rosé works with local ingredients and includes gluten-free and plant-based options. “They have not only a full alcohol menu but also an additional corresponding non-alcoholic cocktail menu.”
Finkle says she made her own alcohol-free gin using just the botanicals. “I don't feel comfortable charging for a premium spirit if it doesn't have enough flavour, and I mean all of the components that make up gin are the botanicals,” says Finkle. “So, if you take the spirit away, you should still taste the botanicals.”
The pair say that working with My Main Street before even opening has helped them refine their concept, especially by accessing My Main Street’s in-depth market research on demographics, interests and social media use in the trade area surrounding the business. “We had done a pretty extensive business plan and some of our own market research before,” says Roth. “But I think that the market research allowed us to dig further into some of the demographics, especially downtown. It allowed us to think a little bit more strategically about our marketing plan.”
Roth says seeing the exact number of seniors in the community was “eye-opening.” “It made us think about how we might cater to an older demographic, especially once we get the diner open,” she adds.
Both owners agree the market data, which pointed to ethical consumerism being a key value for their customer base, helped validate their inclusive approach. “The gender-neutral washrooms, the food allergens (like having gluten-free options), the accessibility and the 0 percent menu – that was all stuff that was in our foundation from the very beginning,” says Roth. “The bottom line is very, very important, but there are lots of other aspects that are important, like work-life balance, having a team that's really happy to come to work and having spaces that are accessible.”
Whiskey & Rosé is dividing the $10,000 non-repayable contribution received through My Main Street between start-up costs like local ingredients, equipment and upgrading the restaurant's technology. “Bringing our point of sales system online and training our staff on how to use the system and implement it,” explains Roth.
Both the market data and the funding have helped Whiskey & Rosé get closer to its goal of re-inventing a once historic inn into something in-step with modern patrons. “Even though restaurants are risky,” says Roth. “We feel if we are thoughtful about our approach and smart about our spending, we can make something really special happen.”
About My Main Street
My Main Street is a $23.25-million investment by the Government of Canada through FedDev Ontario to support the recovery and revitalization of main streets and local businesses in southern Ontario. The Canadian Urban Institute and the Economic Developers Council of Ontario have partnered to deliver My Main Street through two program streams. Learn more at www.mymainstreet.ca.
About FedDev Ontario
For 13 years, the Government of Canada, through FedDev Ontario, has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation, growth and job creation in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving productivity, growing revenues, creating jobs, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the impacts the Agency is having in southern Ontario by exploring our pivotal projects, our Southern Ontario Spotlight, and FedDev Ontario’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.