By Sue Tiffin
For Ben Scott and Monica Bolton, becoming the owners of the River Cone in Minden village is the cherry on top of fulfilling their longtime dreams and entrepreneurial goals.
The couple fell in love with the area after being introduced to it in 2014 by friends who live here. Bolton had grown up in Peterborough and Scott grew up on a farm between Port Hope and Peterborough, but they settled into an urban life.
“We found ourselves living in downtown Toronto, both working really long hours,” said Bolton. “We had a craving to escape every weekend and go to the woods or go camping, a lot of camping.”
Scott was working as a construction supervisor, renovating older homes into luxury homes, while Bolton was in technology solution sales for critical business applications.
“I’ve been working in that industry for close to 20 years,” she said. “Really interesting project but very high stress and a lot of demands on your time. I was just finding that being in Toronto and then shutting off my computer at the end of the day and then walking outside and running into a whole bunch of people, was a little overwhelming.”
“I had dreamed of living on a river for most of my life. I don’t know why – it must be something about reading Huckleberry Finn when I was a kid,” said Scott. “When our friends moved to Minden and we began spending time here, it seemed like such a natural fit for us. We thought about other places we could end up, and Minden just kept pulling us back.”
In October 2018, the pair moved here with their kids. Scott, who is also a carpenter, began working for a local builder and Bolton worked remotely but travelled a lot. She had just accepted a promotion at the global company she was with when the pandemic was declared and the department she had moved into was affected by mass lay-offs.
“I found myself laid off in the summer and needing a change for a multitude of reasons,” she said. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I love people, I love community, and I really felt like it would be nice to contribute in some community focus rather than working for a corporate company again.”
“You never know what’s going to happen, things are unexpected,” said Scott. “We were kind of standing around, looking at ways we could get involved in the community in a business way. This sort of came up at the perfect time, we were able to do it at that time. We were looking for the next avenue, and it popped into our laps, and here we are, we find ourselves about to open a restaurant – our own place.”
Scott said it has always been his dream to own a restaurant.
“It was a really food-oriented childhood,” he said, of growing up on a farm. “I was cooking a lot when I was a kid. We had a really busy family environment – even though we were pretty isolated, it was really busy with the farm. My parents were working, and I had a baby brother when I was nine. I got to choose between doing farm work and cooking meals, so on the nights when it was getting dark, I was just a little kid, so I said, I’d rather cook in the house then go out into the barn in the dark.”
Scott said he got his “hands dirty in the kitchen” early on.
“My dad was always a big fan of, get out there and find work and make sure that you can feed your family,” he said. “He said, get into the food business at least at some point in your life, that way you’ll never go hungry, your family will never go hungry.”
Scott’s first jobs were in restaurants, and eventually in his 20s he moved on but didn’t forget his interest in being a restaurant owner.
“I dreamed about it when I was young,” he said. “It was a long circle, but it did come around full circle, eventually.”
The sale of the River Cone closed in the middle of January this year, and despite it being the middle of winter, Scott and Bolton celebrated on-site in the cold.
“It was a little rough around the edges, but nothing we couldn’t work with,” he said.
And work they have: improving the facade of the building, insulating it, adding a convection oven, and renovating it to be able to expand beyond a seasonal business.
“We think the cone is such a cool building,” said Bolton. “There was always the option to rebuild if we wanted to, but I always thought that would be a great location to make it more of a park. Still put smiles on kids faces, serve the soft serve, but maybe convert this kitchen into something more permanent that can pivot.”
“That’s the hope, that if everything comes together the way we’re hoping it will, we’ll be able to keep the business open for longer portions of the year,” said Scott.
They’d like to be able to cater to snowmobilers with an appetite, perhaps with chili by a bonfire, and also host community events. A basketball net was delivered on the weekend.
“My vision is about the customer experience,” said Bolton. “It’s really taking that spot and making it into a spot for people to come and hang out, or a spot to put movies in the park, or music festivals, or food festivals. I know we’re in [a pandemic] right now and we need to crawl before we walk and run but that’s something I get excited about in the future as well.”
“That’s the stuff that was really intriguing for us, about the River Cone,” said Scott. “Had it been just the business, a tiny footprint of land without the parking space and trees and all the rest, we would have still been interested in it, definitely, but it was also compelling because the business was also on a fairly decent piece of land which meant that all these other things become possible. They’re pretty nascent, they’re not things that we can pull off today, but we’re really hoping down the road we’ll be able to introduce more and more things, just because of the amount of space we have.”
Their excitement is energetic, with ideas for every part of the property but also for the menu. While they don’t want to change the character of the menu too much, they do want to keep what has worked really well, and bring more of a homemade and home cooked taste to the food.
“Instead of doing the frozen fried chicken sandwich or burger, we’re going to do a homemade buttermilk marinated chicken sandwich, just add a level to some of the things,” said Scott.
“A little more home cooked, not out of the freezer,” said Bolton.
“We’re still going to be deep frying food, but it’s going to be a little bit more homemade,” said Scott.
With rotating features they hope to explore what works, having the freedom to try ideas they want to introduce to people, or that they want to try for themselves.
“We’re going to add this other layer, just to see how it works out,” he said. “If it blows up, and it’s clearly popular, maybe it finds a home on the permanent menu. It’s a fairly small kitchen so obviously we can’t do all of those things at the same time, we have to keep the capacity in check.”
Bolton, with a love for chocolate, is giddy as she describes a variety of dips being introduced for the soft serve cones.
“Dipping is kind of going to be something that will be new,” she said. “We’re going to be offering all the things that were previously offered, but dips are what we’re going to focus on this year. Choose your dark chocolate, light chocolate, salted caramel, pralines and cream, mocha – a variety of chocolate dips and sprinkles. The ice cream is going to be fun – my kids are excited about that.”
“It’s an ice cream cone, so we will still definitely be serving plenty of ice cream,” notes Scott.
The pair have been making connections with other food businesses and local purveyors as well.
“That’s a big part of it, too,” said Scott. “If we can feature someone else’s product, or collaborate with somebody and it benefits everyone, then we’re all in for that type of idea.”
Since announcing their new venture, Bolton and Scott have been greeted with congratulations, elation and stories of nostalgia. Several of the people doing work on the building have shared their own stories of the River Cone from their childhood, or their kid’s childhoods.
“It has a legacy,” said Scott. “It’s really neat being part of something that has such a cool story, that has so many people connected to it. We haven’t heard anything negative about what we’re doing. People understand it’s a place in the community, a place in town, it’s so centrally located and so many people go there, that it makes sense to make improvements and increase what it can do. That’s really all that we’re doing. It’s been generally positive from pretty much everyone we’ve talked to.”
Bolton said when they first came to Minden, she connected to something in the smell of the air, which brought a sense of peacefulness for her. The opening of the River Cone, planned to happen this month, brings that same feeling.
“We didn’t know what it would be like for our kids, living in Minden,” said Bolton. “We didn’t know what it would be like for us, but we love it and we love the community here and we feel now that we love it enough to invest in it. It makes it feel like a more permanent lifestyle choice to live here now, which is a nice feeling.”
The Minden River Cone is at 119 Bobcaygeon Road in Minden. Visit The Minden River Cone on Facebook for more information.