Riverbend Inn & Vineyard sold

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE,
ON—Built in 1860, the Riverbend Inn and Vineyard and its restaurant,
located at the corner of John Street and Niagara River Parkway in
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, changed hands on Sept. 19 for an undisclosed
amount.

Toronto-based Jane Yu purchased the 17-acre
property, which includes a 21-room inn, CAA four-diamond restaurant,
coach house and 12 acres of vines, from Alrene Del Ben, who also owns
Old Stone Inn in Niagara Falls, ON.

“There are long-term
plans. Because the hotel is small, intimate [with] 21 rooms, you don’t
have the benefit of 100 rooms and that kind of income,” general manager
Eva Kessel told ORN. She has four decades of hospitality experience,
which includes being the owner and operator of nearby bed and breakfast
The Grand Victorian and co-ordinator of events for Reif Estate winery
for about 20 years at the B&B.

“Riverbend Inn is going to
be doing a lot of interesting things because we’re small and we need to
be more of a destination—we’re not just accommodations, so it’s
attention paid to smaller details,” said Kessel.

She said the
new owner is planning to build a spa on the second floor of the coach
house and considering building a larger facility for conferences and
weddings. Currently, Riverbend has a 12-person boardroom and can host 50
in the coach house and 150 people for a tented wedding.  

Kessel
said Riverbend will continue its partnership with Reif Estates Winery,
which have managed the property’s 12 acres of vineyards since the hotel
opened in 2002 and produces small lots of cabernet sauvignon,
chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, vidal and merlot under the Riverbend label
for use in the restaurant.

Matt
Tattrie has taken up the helm as executive chef of the restaurant. The
28-year-old was formerly with Vintage Inns. He put out his first menu in
October for the 50-seat restaurant, which seats an additional 10 at an
antique bar and 50 on a seasonal patio.

The dinner menu
includes seafood pappardelle, Mediterranean risotto, a half rack of lamb
roasted with a maple walnut crust served with garlic mashed potatoes,
seasonal vegetables and Colaneri Merlot rosemary jus, and a grilled
tenderloin served with lobster mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables and a
red wine reduction. Average check for lunch is $30 per person and $65
for dinner.

Kessel describes Tattrie’s cooking as classic,
adding the kitchen makes everything in house, such as pasta, ice cream
and jams. “I’m looking at the things he loves to do and that’s the
direction we’re going to go,” said Kessel, adding they plan on promoting
his passions. “There are a lot of people that talk local, that talk
scratch, but he’s the real thing.”

Kessel said the new owner plans to bring Eastern philosophies to the spa but to keep the European look of the restaurant.

“The rooms are reproduction antique and people like that; they like the look, it suits the look of the hotel,” she said. Renovation plans call for updating the rooms with new
mattresses and carpeting, painting, replacing some tired furniture and
refurbishing antique pieces.

“We’re planning on getting a fair bit done over the winter;
we’re going to take advantage of the quiet months,” Kessel said.

The
storied property was originally deeded to William McClennan in 1809,
who farmed the land. In 1860, doctor Thomas Halliday Watt purchased the
land and built a 6,500-square-foot brick mansion, which, with a later
addition, is now the hotel. The property also served as a poultry farm
and, for 45 years, a home run by five sisters for boys with mental
disabilities, an art gallery and apartments. One resident, Peggy
Anderson, set up Newark Neighbours, a charity organization providing
food and clothing to those with financial needs. The non-profit
organization still operates from the property in its own building, free
of rent.

The Weins family bought the property in 2002 and
turned it into the 21-room, Georgian-style inn and planted vines. The
Riverbend Inn & Vineyard opened its doors to the public in April of
2004 and its wine was ready two years later. In February 2010, the Del
Ben family acquired the property.

Kessel said a student from the nearby Willowbank School of Restoration Arts will research the history of the property.

“I don’t think it has ever been properly researched and it does have a beautiful history,” she said.