In February last year, when Mel McNulty signed a new lease beginning in March 2020 for what was to become The Cove Waterfront Grill, neither he, nor anyone else, could ever have imagined what was coming.
McNulty paid for the lease, rented equipment, hired and began training staff and ordered a small mountain of food. He had one month to get ready, or so he thought. His official opening date was slated for April 1, 2020.
This was it. McNulty, who had learned about the food business by helping his mother, Betty Riopelle, a longtime caterer, had left his job and was about to embark on a dream — a restaurant in a perfect Kingston location overlooking the St. Lawrence River. It was all systems go.
Sure there was a lot of talk about the new influenza-like illness. But it was mostly something happening elsewhere in the world — on cruise ships and in far-flung places. Europe seemed to have become the new epicentre of the virus. At the end of February 2020, there were only five known cases of COVID-19 in Ontario and no sense or urgency or doom. The World Health Organization had not declared a pandemic and seemed resistant to doing so. The most optimistic amongst us were hoping this virus would soon blow over.
But by two weeks later, all of that had changed. On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared that COVID-19 was, indeed, a global pandemic. On March 14, 2020, the Canadian government issued a statement urging all Canadians who were out of the country to return home as soon as possible and said that “new restrictions may be imposed with little warning.” Then, on March 17, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in the province and ordered some businesses to be closed. At the top of the list for closures were bars and restaurants.
“I never had a Plan B,” McNulty says.
Fair enough. No one goes into the restaurant business expecting that two weeks later everything will be shut down. But failure was not an option, and somehow Mel McNulty had to keep going.
“I was never a Facebook kind of guy,” McNulty says, but nonetheless, with no established business record or clientele to fall back on, he took to social media, reaching out to the community and posting enticing but honest food photographs and telling people what was going on.
In no time, The Cove Waterfront Grill quickly racked up well over 1,000 followers. The followers came through. They ordered takeaway and kept the place going. And when things started to open up, they came in person, too. Then as the province cycled through various lockdowns and reopenings, it wasn’t easy, but The Cove just kept on gaining momentum.
Sitting on the second-storey patio, McNulty looks out over the river and reflects back on the year now behind him. “The best thing is that we have the satisfaction of knowing that despite every setback, our dream is actually coming true,” he says. “We are truly feeling the love and all the local support.”
We talk for a bit about food. “I was inspired by my mother’s love of food. And in all truth, I came to this as an avid eater,” McNulty says, enthusiastically.
There’s no pretension here. The menu features tried-and-true favourites: battered haddock and chips, with coleslaw and homemade tartar sauce; an apple chicken panini sandwich; a proper old-fashioned clubhouse sandwich; salad options including a Cobb salad; and of course, chicken wings. (Come for the Wednesday night pound and a pint special).
There are also some more contemporary vegetarian and vegan options such as Penne Rosé with grilled vegetables, and a beet and bean burger, made in house and topped with tomato jam, lettuce, tomatoes and onion. Seasonal desserts include fruit pies and cheesecakes amongst others. You won’t leave hungry!
The Cove Waterfront Grill, licensed by the LLBO. Indoor dining (when and as allowed) and patio dining with a view of the water. Takeaway also available.
Address: At the Treasure Island Marina, 1753 Highway 2 East, Kingston.
Current hours: Open seven days a week. Daily, noon to 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (last seating on Fridays at 7 p.m.). Check the website (thecovegrill.com) to keep informed of any changes.