By Kristen Smith
PORT REXTON, N.L. — Sometimes the guests at Fishers’ Loft Inn take days to figure out who owns the 33-room property because its staff don’t hesitate to make decisions.
“That was I think the greatest compliment I ever heard about Fishers’ Loft Inn,” said John Fisher, who owns inn with his wife Peggy.
Heading into the 4.5-star inn’s 20th season, the Fishers run their inn as a social enterprise.
“Anybody who isn’t probably shouldn’t be running a business,” John said.
After falling in love with the province, the couple moved to Newfoundland from Ontario. The Fishers got into the hospitality business with a four-room B&B in 1997 and within two years saw the need to expand. Two additional buildings were built with eight suites and rooms along with the dining room, kitchen, bar, living room and library, complemented by a kitchen garden and greenhouse.
“After a couple of years we were turning away more people than we could accommodate so we added another 12 rooms and it’s just gone on from there,” Peggy said.
The Fishers’ two sons, Luke and Gabe, live nearby with their families after moving back to the east coast of the province.
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“Both sons work in the business, they’re just sort of gradually taking over from us,” said Peggy, adding their spouses are also quite involved in running the business.
The inn now has 33 rooms and a staff of about 20, many of whom have worked at the property for more than 15 years.
“We’re part of an economic renaissance that’s going on in rural Newfoundland and a big part of what we’re about is attempting to provide jobs, good paying jobs, in a healthy, positive environment,” said John, adding they try to stretch the season — which runs from May into October and sometimes into November for conferences — as far as they can.
He said it was important that the inn’s employees could survive on their seasonal wages in case there were ever a disruption or reduction in employment insurance. “They are paid well, there are lots of gratuities, it’s a very healthy situation for them economically and we felt very strongly about that,” said John.
The staff are given license to make suggestions about improving the business as well as empowered to make decisions, which means they get made more quickly.
“Our view is that a happy, enfranchised, involved, engaged staff is the secret to keeping guests happy,” John said.
“We’ve just really believed in enfranchising our workers and everybody, in a sense, is a manager, we have a minimum of committees, we don’t have a vertical structure, we probably have a horizontal and open structure,” John said. “We’ve got an incredibly motivated, intelligent and decision-making staff.”
In the kitchen, local women learn from consulting chefs, the likes of whom have included Todd Perrin, Bob Arniel, David Tombs and the Fishers’ niece, Laura Duchow.
With a focus on skills transfer, the chefs provide recipes for the daily changing menu, which highlights local seafood and produce from the on-site garden and greenhouse.
“All these people left recipes behind them and left elements of kitchen management and prep,” John said. “There’s this huge repository of knowledge from all these people over the years.”