By Emily Stonehouse
It’s becoming more and more common; a Minden business closing its doors, waiting for times to ease up.
That’s what the Minden River Cone has had to do.
The relatively new business is run by Ben and Monica Scott, who moved to Minden in 2018. “We fell in love with the area,” said Monica, “and we used to go to the River Cone all the time, so when it became available, we both stepped away from career jobs and jumped in.”
The couple took ownership in January of 2021, and the space had been left without being properly cleaned or maintained. They invested time, money, and energy into creating a community hub that everyone would utilize. “We just really wanted to do something cool for the community,” shared Monica.
Ben had spent over a decade in the food industry, and had the vision to create a facility that would offer “elevated takeout.” And that is what they did; serving chef-inspired fast food with local ingredients and homemade recipes. They particularly wanted to create an alternative to the typical fast food along the highway, enticing locals and visitors to come into the downtown core.
Opening a restaurant during the height of a pandemic may seem like a questionable choice, but Ben and Monica were cognizant that standard indoor facilities were not open, therefore the restaurants providing takeout were the only local options.
With the new ownership, a creative element was introduced to the area. Ben and Monica hosted Halloween parties for the community, incorporated a bouncy castle for celebratory events, and added a unique and eye-catching bike rack to their front yard, which they decorated seasonally.
On top of the property add-ons, the couple also converted the front of the facility into a user-friendly and accessible takeout area. They added a sheltered seasonal dining tent out the back of the building, hosting topographic maps of Haliburton county, and bringing a sense of park-like joy to the location for all visitors and a holistic pride in the community.
Since opening, the River Cone had been adamantly supported by visitors, locals, and businesses. Monica and Ben noted that they received support from the OPP, hydro workers, hospitals, schools, and Minden Hills councillors and staff. They worked to build a strong and supportive team, and it became a space that was welcoming, warm, and above all, fun.
On the surface, the business was booming. Yet, slowly but surely, the complications began to mount. “We ran into a lot of problems with the building itself,” said Ben, explaining that the challenges were not limited to the difficulty of winterizing, which is a common problem in the area.
They shared that many individuals continued to assume they only sold ice cream, due to the physical shape of the cone building. They noted that guests were impressed, but surprised, when they discovered the menu. “It’s a double-edged sword. It’s a unique building but also gives a limited impression of what we offer,” said Ben.
They also addressed the abundance of red tape they encountered from the Township of Minden Hills. They ran into a series of building issues when it came to opening up the business, and the challenges continued as they had visions of expanding, citing that zoning requirements were steep and restrictive.
One of the examples they shared with the Times was when they went before council to suggest a skating rink at their location. “We thought it would be a win-win,” said Monica. “The skating rink already exists, but it’s just out of view. We thought we could encourage people to spend a day right here in Minden if they had activities to do in the core. It’s not just for the River Cone; we believed this would be great for the whole community.”
The idea was unanimously supported by locals, friends, and other businesses, and was even received favourably by council initially. But the idea fizzled out due to the location of a fire hydrant on the property, and a drain on Orde Street that would be covered with the rink.
Monica and Ben tried to communicate with the municipal staff; offering options, alternatives, and outside the box ideas, but they were met with silence. “Having a strong local business community means we need a receptive attitude, creativity, and initiative,” said Monica. “We were trying everything, but we just didn’t get that support.”
The Times reached out to the municipality, and received information that staff did not recall exactly why the initiative had stalled, but that it was a council decision overall.
The most recent instance of red-tape was when Monica and Ben were denied a Heatline installation at the facility. The two were going in hours before opening each morning to warm up their water pipes with hair dryers. They brought in professionals to assess and survey the plausibility of a locally-made Heatline system being installed to protect the main water line.
They were given the greenlight to proceed by professionals, only for it to be halted by the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), citing municipal water safety concerns.
Shortly after, during a bitter cold day, Ben and Monica came into the restaurant and found that pipes were frozen again. “And that was it,” said Monica, “we were done.” While the decision to halt the Heatline had since been reversed from OCWA, it was too late in the season to proceed. With rising food prices, competitive labour costs, high utility fees, and slow tourism months, they opted to throw in the towel until brighter days return.
The couple understands the need for rules and regulations, and told the Times they would go above and beyond to make sure they were up to par. “We just wanted to be able to talk to someone. We need the municipality to find ways to work with us instead of giving us reasons to say no,” said Monica.
The River Cone is planning on opening its doors once the world warms up a bit, “We will keep rocking the River Cone in the summer,” said Ben. But in the meantime, both have returned to alternative jobs, and are continuing to plan for the summer season. In their public statement in regards to closing, they stated “To our amazing regulars that have supported us through thick and thin, we are going to miss you!…So long for now.”