Zita Cobb: back to Fogo, with love

Entrepreneur returns to her home turf with big dreams for its future

Steve Bartlett sbartlett@thetelegram.com
Published on May 6, 2011
Zita Cobb at the construction site of the Fogo Island Inn.
Steve Bartlett/The Telegram

Zita Cobb says Fogo Island has the freshest, cleanest air on Earth.

She figures the islet has seven seasons. She loves each of them, but fall is her favourite.

"The winds out of the west are special and amazing," she says. "I absolutely try and not plan anything that takes me away from the partridgeberry hills."

With wealth made in the dot com world, Cobb could be based anywhere on the planet - which she's seen a lot of - but she chooses the small, rural, island where she was raised, without electricity, let alone luxury.

While some may question her rationale, spend a few minutes with Cobb and her reasons become obvious - she loves Fogo Island.

She talks about its people, culture, heritage, geography, berries, fish, landscape and lichens with absolute passion.

"I spent all my childhood looking at the outside world and then 30 years away looking back at Fogo Island," she says.

"And it really wasn't until I went away and looked at it from the other side that I could really see it."

Instead of watching Fogo suffer the same decline as many rural communities, Cobb decided to do something about it and co-founded Shorefast.

And she's put her money where her mouth is - not to mention her heart.

She says her investment in the Fogo Island Inn has "gone well, well beyond the $6 million that was announced."

(The province and the feds have also invested in the project.)

While she's helping fund construction, Cobb is also making sure the inn and the art studios being built have as little environmental impact as possible.

The inn, for instance, will stand on stilts to protect the rocks and lichen beneath it.

It would have been easy to flatten the sites with explosives and then build, Cobb says, but that's not respecting the environment the way our ancestors did.

With a lot of care and caution already taken, and many of the projects she envisioned taking shape, Cobb is pleased with the progress.

She knows there's still a lot to do, and that the inn and arts program have to work once construction wraps up.

Cobb says the most special moment of the effort so far happened last June, during the rock-turning ceremony for the inn.

There was a boil-up at the site, with fires burning and traditional foods cooking.

People, including dignitaries there for the occasion, sat and ate lunch.

Cobb says the tourism minister turned to her and said, "When you are here and the ocean is right there, there's nothing missing. This is perfect. This is a world-class experience."

"That to me was the most gratifying moment," she says.

If things work out, there could be lots of similar moments on the horizon, as visitors stay at the inn and artists create in an avant-garde studio, breathing the freshest, cleanest air on Earth.

sbartlett@thetelegram.com Twitter: bartlett_steve