Channel sellers looking to recoup sunk costs as the skateway remains closed

Hennessy said he spent thousands of dollars updating the trailer.  (John Hennessy - photo credit)

Hennessy said he spent thousands of dollars updating the trailer. (John Hennessy – photo credit)

UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, the NCC announced that the Rideau Canal Skateway will not open this season for the first time in its history.

When John Hennessy got a call from the National Capital Commission (NCC) inviting him to be a salesman at the Rideau Canal Skateway that season, he was thrilled.

Just six months ago, Hennessy opened ZUPS ByWard, a restaurant specializing in poutine in downtown Ottawa. He had no plans to expand anytime soon, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“They thought we were a perfect partner for the channel,” said Hennessy, who also has a base up north in Wakefield.

He immediately went to work, spending “over $10,000” to purchase, tag and upgrade a new food-grade trailer to meet weight, fire safety, and fuel requirements.

“It was mostly time, but there was some out-of-pocket expenses while getting everything we needed to have a compliant and safe trailer on the ice,” he said.

John Hennessy

John Hennessy

With the canal remaining closed due to unsuitable weather and bad ice, Hennessy is now one of several food and drink vendors who must cool their heels and watch their investments melt away.

At this late point in the season, it’s looking increasingly likely that the skateway won’t open at all.

“The prospect of us doing well was pretty good,” said Hennessy. “It’s just a weather-related issue that we’ve unfortunately had to deal with.”

“That’s a lot for a small company”

Dunrobin Distilleries made their skateway debut last winter when spirits were sold on the canal for the first time.

The company wanted to build on that this year. President and co-founder Mark Watson said his company also spent around $10,000 securing and coding a cabin, making signs, hiring seasonal staff and buying supplies.

“We’ve been through it all and unfortunately Mother Nature has prevented us from selling our spirits on the canal,” Watson said.

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Certain items, such as the ingredients for the custom Northern Spike cocktail, were purchased specifically for the skating season and cannot actually be used. Those are now considered sunk costs, Watson said.

“For a small company, that’s a lot,” he said. “We’d have to sell a lot of drinks to recoup that.”

Looking for other options

Hennessy said he’s waiting to hear if ZUPS will be invited to Bluesfest this summer. He also has his sights set on the Ottawa PoutineFest, the Canadian Tulip Festival and the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

“While it’s really disappointing that we didn’t go on the ice, we now have a mobile offering that we didn’t have before,” he noted. “It just came too soon and wasn’t offset by revenue.”

Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Although disappointed, both Hennessy and Watson said they were pleased with how the NCC handled the setback.

“The NCC did their best,” said Watson.

“I truly believe they kept us informed at every step of the process and at the end of the day, safety came first.”


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