/The Rockcliffe hits a wall
Dan Gosselin, Kirsty Goodearle, Mark Dracop and Lise Dracop will be putting the original Rockcliffe location back on the market due to the council decision that will impact their vision of expanding. /file photo

The Rockcliffe hits a wall

By Emily Stonehouse

“We’re not turning our backs on Minden, but it’s the end of an era for the original Rockcliffe.” Those somber words were shared by Rockcliffe owner Mark Dracup during an interview with the Times in reference to the council decision that put an end to the development of the restaurant in the downtown core. 

Many would recognize the Rockcliffe Tavern that is located on the corner of Newcastle Street and Bobcaygeon Road in the heart of Minden. Three years ago, a group of investors stepped in to revitalize the building, and bring back the Rockcliffe name to the area. “We were the people who wanted to take this on,” said Kirsty Goodearle, one of the co-owners of the brand, “The spirit of the Rockcliffe belongs in Minden.” 

While there was an abundance of red tape that emerged from the purchase, plus the inevitability of a complete overhaul of the building in its entirety, the group opted to open a second location in Moore Falls while they kept chipping away at one day opening the location downtown. 

The Moore Falls Rockcliffe location quickly became a hot spot, filled with locals and visitors alike, and offering that same Rockcliffe “spirit” that Goodearle aimed to fulfill. 

As the years ticked on and one council was replaced with another, the group started hearing less and less from the Minden Township about how the original building could undergo the changes in order to open. 

The owners had created a rendering from an architect to display their vision of a restaurant, a bar, a music room, and more. At one point, the township noted that they needed more parking to turn the facility into a proper restaurant. So the investors purchased a lot just down the road, which they also planned on turning into a small apartment complex, in an attempt to offset the local housing crisis. 

All these plans were halted though when the owners of the Rockcliffe were told on Friday, Aug. 4 that their plans to expand the downtown location were denied. In order for the plans to follow through, they needed to acquire a piece of land that is connected to the original Rockcliffe property; a piece of land currently owned by the Township of Minden Hills. 

“We went in with a firm, no conditions offer,” said Dracup, “We showed our drawings, and explained how the investment in the community could be two, maybe three million. We gave them a very simple off-ramp for their headache.” 

After three years of waiting, Dracup and his team were told one month ago that the property would be going up for sale. After a series of questions not met with any answers from the township, they got word of a council meeting coming up on Aug. 3. “We were sent an email on the Monday, and told that if we wanted to present to council, we needed to submit the presentation by Tuesday morning. Less than 24 hours,” said Dracup. 

Dracup and his co-owner colleague Dan Gosselin were successful in putting together a presentation despite the time crunch, but after their presentation on Thursday, they were quickly told on Friday morning that their offer was not accepted. 

Now, after three years of trying, they have decided to throw in the towel on the downtown location. “With this decision, the town has given us no confidence that they would ever want to offer us any support,” said Gosselin. 

They noted that through a series of community improvement plans and studies the township has conducted over the years, that abandoned original Rockcliffe building has come up as a point of contention. While some locals feel the ties to the original memories, others recognize it as a bruise on the aesthetic of the downtown core. “Whatever is on that corner, it sets the tone for the whole town,” said Gosselin, noting the high visibility of the building. 

After finding out that their bid was not successful, the Rockcliffe team took to social media. 

“To our loyal customers,” starts the lengthy post, “Unfortunately, our discussions with the Township of Minden Hills have not progressed the way we would’ve hoped. As such, we’re not moving forward with the redevelopment of The Rockcliffe location in Minden Village.”

The post goes on to say that they will be putting the original property back up for sale, and will be dedicating their energy and enthusiasm to the Moore Falls location moving forward. “Moore Falls is the Rockcliffe now,” said Goodearle, “and the support has not stopped.”

When asked if the team could take on a different approach to the new restaurant in the downtown core, without the addition of the township property, they answered with a unanimous “no.” “It’s not about the building,” said Goodearle, “the Rockcliffe spirit can live anywhere.” But they agreed that the headaches caused from the municipality are enough to discourage them from ever trying this type of initiative again. “Why would we or anybody take that burden on,” said Gosselin. 

The Times reached out to local officials for a statement on their decision, but at the time of publication, had not heard any response. Further updates will be provided as this story continues to develop.