As Alan Johnston heads into his last week at MacAskill’s, customers continually stream through the doors.
“We’re fully booked ... on our last day we’ve got 60 reservations for lunch and 100 for dinner. It’s unbelievable,” Johnston said.
After 25 years with MacAskill’s – 17 as owner – Johnston is feeling mixed emotions as the waterfront restaurant closes Oct. 27.
“There are a lot of changes coming to downtown Dartmouth. I’ve seen the potential in this place for years – that’s why I bought into the business myself 17 years ago – but it feels different this time. It’s finally happening,” Johnston said.
On Dec. 1, The Wooden Monkey will open their second location in MacAskill’s spot. A popular Halifax eatery, The Wooden Monkey has built a strong reputation based on their commitment to local and organic food.
After he and his family moved to Hortonville in the Valley two years ago, Johnston says he knew the writing was on the wall that he would have to sell the restaurant.
“We’re up and down that road a lot. It does get tiring,” Johnston said, as he tallies a quick estimate of what he and his wife Christina have been paying in gas and hours on the road over the past couple of years.
That being said, when the time came he was very selective when talking with prospective buyers.
“We have been lucky to have a very loyal clientele, and a very loyal staff ... We’ve got some employees who have been with us for 16 years. That’s almost unheard of in this business,” Johnston said.
Looking around the restaurant, Johnston relates stories that have meant almost as much to him as they have for the people who sat at the various tables and celebrated memorable moments over the years. Take table 14, for instance, where a couple got engaged many years ago and return each year on their anniversary.
Looking at the bar, Johnston thinks of his 92-year-old customer who has celebrated New Year’s Eve at MacAskill’s every year for 26 years.
She’ll be there on closing night, Johnston said, adding that when he sold the restaurant to The Wooden Monkey, he made sure to introduce his loyal customer to Lil MacPherson, one of the partners in the new venture.
“I know Lil will treat her right, and that’s important to me,” Johnston said. “They’re (new owners MacPherson, Christine Bower and Matthew Gass) a good fit for this place. They’re all from Dartmouth and they really see the value here.”
All MacAskill’s 20-plus employees have been offered work at the Monkey.
As for Johnston, after working every Christmas and New Year’s Eve, not to mention Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, he’s looking forward to spending time with his wife and children.
“By the time Christmas comes I’m usually exhausted. It will be nice to be able to hang out with my family and relax for a change.”
Downtown Dartmouth seeing revitalization
By Joanie Veitch - The Weekly News
There’s a buzz happening in downtown Dartmouth as King’s Wharf construction continues and new businesses move in.
A sign posted outside the King’s Wharf development announces a new Just Us! Cafe will be opening soon. The Wooden Monkey is taking over the former MacAskill’s waterfront restaurant location, opening Dec. 1.
Over at 117 Portland Street, Sugar Shok Candy Boutique opened Oct. 5. A small shop painted lime-green and full of sweets and other fun treats, Sugar Shok is just up from Strange Adventures and a couple of blocks up from The Bike Pedaler – both recent additions to downtown Dartmouth.
“It’s an exciting time for downtown Dartmouth,” said Stacey Campbell, owner of Sugar Shok.
An employee of the Royal Bank on Portland St. for eight years before opening her own business, Campbell said there’s a new mood downtown.
“I love downtown. There are way more people out walking around now. You can sense that something’s happening here and people are enjoying it,” Campbell said.
Having successfully launched her business, Campbell said she’s heard from two other businesses interested in opening in the downtown core.
“There are huge changes coming,” she said.