Fogo Island Dreams Big

Steve Bartlett
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Five-star inn will showcase all things local

Second in a three-part series

Russ Petten remembers arriving on Fogo Island and being shown where he’d be guiding construction of a five-star inn.

“They brought me to the site and they said, ‘This is where we want you to build the inn.’

“I said, ‘You’re joking,’” the construction manager recalls.

They weren’t.

The Fogo Island Inn has been under construction on the Barr’d Islands site since last June.

The 4,000-square-metre building is going up on a lichen-covered landscape a rock toss from the North Atlantic Ocean.

It’s set to officially open in mid-2012.

The inn is a main plank in the Shorefast Foundation’s plan to help sustain Fogo Island.

It’ll have 29 rooms, an art gallery, a restaurant guided by a top chef, a National Film Board e-cinema, and a rooftop spa.

It’ll also house a library that’ll include books from the private collection of the late Leslie Harris, former president of Memorial University and a renowned Newfoundland scholar.

Bedding, furniture and interiors will all be designed and handmade on Fogo Island.

“The goal is to be among the exclusive rural inns of the world,” says Zita Cobb, Shorefast’s co-founder.

Geo-tourists are the targeted clientele — “people who are interested in (a destination’s) environment, heritage and food and culture and well-being,” Cobb said.

“That just makes so much sense for a place like this that’s so deeply steeped in culture and heritage.

“Everyone says, ‘Who’s going to go to Fogo Island, for God’s sake?’ Well, we’ve given this some thought,” she says.

Shorefast anticipates it will attract people seeking something with more depth than a traditional destination — an intimate, cultural and natural experience.

Cobb believes Fogo Island offers that.

“People who come here and stay, I think they do feel kind of clearer about their own lives, because I think they had that chance to breathe out, and just look at it from a place that is not all rushing by you.”

Guests will pay a premium, but Cobb said if they only charged $100 a night — as opposed to, say, $500 — they’d have to attract five times as many visitors.

“That means five times as many people have to come on the ferry, that’s five times as many pairs of feet on every little lichen and flower and every berry on this island.

“That means five times more people we have to take care of and love. We can’t love that many people. We’re only 2,700 people ourselves.”

Cobb feels sure there are wealthy people out there who wouldn’t stay at a place that didn’t start at $500 per night.

“If you’re willing to pay 100 euros to visit the north coast of Spain, why wouldn’t you be willing to visit the north coast of Newfoundland?”

Cobb realizes people paying that much for a room will expect the best in food and service and says great lengths are being taken to deliver those things.

She’s aware that if the inn falls short when it caters to guests, it won’t be able to compete internationally.

Shorefast has been involved in initiatives like bringing in chefs to create dishes with local foods and produce. The foundation is also supporting island initiatives to grow produce to supply the restaurant.

And there are major plans to ensure that the inn’s service is second to none. Shorefast will launch a program it’s developed for staff this fall. (Cobb expects there will be 50 or 60 employees.)

They’ll learn things like how to greet people upon arrival and how to properly prepare a room. The training will include formal coursework and simulated service experiences that’ll take place in the small training centre being set up.

Then there’ll be a soft opening, where “friendly” guests will stay at the inn and help the staff perfect service delivery.

Cobb says Shorefast is also exploring how to share the training modules with other players in the province’s service industry.

The inn will work with other Newfoundland sites, and will encourage its guests to see other parts of the province.

“But we must never stop benchmarking ourselves internationally, because we’re not competing with Corner Brook … we’re competing with Sans Sebastian (in Spain).”

Any profits will be reinvested in Fogo Island, though Cobb has an interesting philosophy when it comes to profiting from hospitality.

She believes people should get into the industry to take care of people, not for the sole purpose of making money.

“Nothing makes me madder than to hear someone say — and I’ve heard it across the province and different places — ‘Well, you know, I suppose this summer I’ll make a few dollars off the tourists.’ That is insulting to our guests. That’s about as low as it gets. That’s not going to happen at the Fogo Island Inn.”

Cobb says the goal is to take care of guests in a way that’s good for the visitor as well as for Fogo Islanders. The inn has to benefit both.

“If it’s not a double victory, it will be a big failure,” she says.

But first things first. The inn has to be finished.

Project manager Petten jokes that guests and Fogo Islanders won’t be the only ones benefiting from it.

 “If we pull this off, it’s going to look awfully good on a résumé,” he laughs.

More on the construction and interior of the Fogo Island Inn is available in The Weekend Telegram.

Twitter: bartlett_steve

Organizations: Fogo Island Inn, Shorefast Foundation, National Film Board

Geographic location: Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Spain Corner Brook

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Recent comments

  • Victoria Morley
    August 12, 2013 - 21:11

    We visited Fogo Island, the Inn and saw the artist studios, June/July /13. The island's geography and plant material is stunning. What a treat to see Todd Saunder's architecture. The Inn and studios are fabulous. Also, it was wonderful to see the artistic use of local craftmanship eg. the rug hooking on seating. Ms Cobb is another treasure for the island. Congratulations. Victoria Morley

  • peterdwyer
    January 15, 2012 - 19:58

    There are those who want business to succedd and then there are those who want them to fail I like Zita's idea and so will all the millionairs and Billionairs who will flock to fogo island in thecomming years They will all enjoy a day on the water a ski -doo ride or a bog bike ride, clean fresh air, great scenerey good old hospitality and will long to return but not alone i see a great opportunity For Many small business to succedd Those who snooze Loose. good luck

    • Jackie Hookey
      October 05, 2012 - 15:29

      I wish the venture every success. I lived on a small Caribbean island for 14 years and saw the negative imput of tourism on the community and I pray it doesn't happen here. But Newfoundlanders are strong and proud of who they are and that is my only hope that the same thing will not happen here.

  • Shirlene Sexton
    December 23, 2011 - 15:36

    I have been married to a Sexton from Tilting for 30 years and have lived and/or travelled virtually everywhere in Canada. My husband refused to take me to NFLD because he thought I'd never come back/1 I'm from Montreal and attended Tilting's come home year in 2007 with my brother and his family. My husband knows me well; if I had a choice I would have stayed forever! It is a beautiful, amazing island! Congrats Zita! And for all the naysayers..why didn't you protest to stop what you thought was not right for the island? It is a BEAUTIFUL, untamed part of this country and needs to be shared. If we had our way, we'd leave Alberta and live on Fogo!

  • Steve
    May 12, 2011 - 15:55

    Hope it works - I sincerely hope that you are wrong regarding 12 million tax dollars being sunk into this - dream. The only thing missing is an attached green house to grow cucumbers. I agree with other posts if that is in fact correct, the funds could definitely be used to upgrade an aging infrastructure on Fogo. Not on someone's pipe dream!

  • Debbie
    May 11, 2011 - 04:58

    It is good to have more nice hotels on the island. Don't be ashamed to make a profit. If you provide a good service then you deserve to make a profit for a job well done. I hope to have an opportunity to visit there one day!

  • redrantingtory
    May 08, 2011 - 12:09

    I hope she makes it but somehow I feel the some, not all of the population on Fogo, is not with her. They are the first to bring up the overpass syndrome and ask where are the jobs for rural Newfoundland. They are the first to complain when someone tries to start up a business. The statement made here by Jason is a prime example. Complain when there are are no jobs and the government is not helping and complain when they do. Oh the Bay politics. Don't try and build something as it will ruin the landscape. Don't try and start a business as it will make us work all year round.. Place a label on anyone from the outside who could spend money in your town. The old attitudes still pervade rural Newfoundland and are holding many people back from investing their time and money into rural towns. I suggest the people start moving into the 21st century and join the rest of us. Hold on to your culture and be proud but give people a chance to make a go of it instead of tearing them down first.

  • hope it works
    May 07, 2011 - 19:23

    I sure hope this works for Fogo Island and the Shorefast Foundation. With brutal air fares, terrible roads and lousy ferry service to Fogo I am very sceptical, but we will wait and see. Steve, there's $12M government money gone into this from what I can gather.

    • eric
      August 25, 2011 - 08:30

      If the government is spending 12 million dollars on this hotel then its a waste of money went there are so many roads that needs to be done and other things.

  • Barb
    May 07, 2011 - 17:28

    I've visited the island many times and while it is always a warm and welcoming place due the folks who live there, the ferry schedule can be extremely frustrating - maybe some of Cobb's funds should be used to expand and update the ferry service.

  • Frank dwyer
    May 07, 2011 - 17:04

    The Cobb family are to be commended and their patience with the small minded minority on the island and(found in every small community by the by) is a to be applauded. My family arrived on fogo. In 1700 s . Irish poor but savvy survivors looking for a new life. It s history belongs to the world not just the residents. Cobb,s attempt to tell that story and move the island forward in a classy way, benefiting the residents with jobs and pride has to be saluted by all fair thinking ,progressive folk everywhere, New York times last month listed. Fogo as a must visit. Top ten sites in the world. Doesn't,,t get better than that. Frank

  • Frank dwyer
    May 07, 2011 - 17:03

    The Cobb family are to be commended and their patience with the small minded minority on the island and(found in every small community by the by) is a to be applauded. My family arrived on fogo. In 1700 s . Irish poor but savvy survivors looking for a new life. It s history belongs to the world not just the residents. Cobb,s attempt to tell that story and move the island forward in a classy way, benefiting the residents with jobs and pride has to be saluted by all fair thinking ,progressive folk everywhere, New York times last month listed. Fogo as a must visit. Top ten sites in the world. Doesn't,,t get better than that. Frank

  • Steve
    May 07, 2011 - 12:23

    Many times it is nice to dream big. It is a huge gamble on the specialized tourist industry here in rural Newfoundland and Labrador for sure. We have a brutally short tourist season to actually make a business work. When you add in isolation, and very little supporting infrastructure, it is a daunting task to try and entice people to travel that far off of the beaten track. It is further complicated by the fact that you are aiming for a high end clientele. I wish them well, however, I sincerely hope that there isn't any government money sunk into this - dream

  • Mary
    May 07, 2011 - 11:52

    Rural Newfoundland is so rich in culture; what a wonderfully natural way to bring the joy of authentic Newfoundland to our visitors; I hope more communities follow suit.

  • Jason
    May 07, 2011 - 11:29

    I am in favour of protecting our Fogo Island heritage and even highlighting and promoting it to the tourist sector and applaude Zita for doing so. I do, however, take offense to the obscene structures she has started erecting around the island. Nothing ruins the beautiful landscape of our beloved island like huge "charcoal" buildings. The inn being built in Joe Batt's Arm, not Barr'd Islands, stands out like a sore thumb. What once was a beautiful place over looking the ocean for the local population as now become an eyesore of financial gain. A more suitable location could have been selected and all the 'artsey folk' could have easily still gained all the 'culture' they initially came to the Island to get.

  • Dan Gosse
    May 07, 2011 - 11:20

    Talk about revitilizing rural NL! I think Fogo is on to something great. I like Cobb's approach ' Do it once, do it right, the world is watching.'