CARBONEAR, NL — If you take a walk along Water Street in downtown Carbonear any day between Wednesday and Sunday, you'll see lots of vehicles parked around an old stone building.
For close to a decade, there was no reason for people to go check out the building once known as Rorke's Stone Jug. Initially built in 1860 as a store and home by Irish merchant John Rorke, it continued to operate as a family business into the 1970s. A bar operated there for a few years before closing in 2008.
Two years ago, Bruce Branan finally realized his dream of opening a restaurant and bar in the historic property. An American businessman, he first came to Newfoundland in 2007 and was immediately impressed with the building.
"I like old buildings," said Branan, who has purchased historic properties in a number of countries over the years. "I think I was looking for somewhere — I don't know where — that was kind of off the grid, because I lived in Asia for many, many years, and I wanted something in North America."
The pub concept appealed to Branan.
"I thought, well, I wouldn't mind living here. I like it here. And what's missing for me was somewhere to eat. I mean, there's a lot of places to eat, but when you go into a store and you look for something to eat, you'd say there's a lot of stuff, but no food … I wanted to create something I'd like myself — beer and pizzas, wood-fired grill."
He did not have a background in being a restaurateur and admits to not being fully prepared for the difficulties one can encounter in setting up such a business, but after spending a considerable amount of time and money on the property, The Stone Jug was ready to open for business in December of 2015. Its menu includes a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, seafood dishes, steaks, pastas, burgers and artisan pizzas.
Since then, there's been a noticeable increase in the amount of people congregating around the old downtown of Carbonear, which also features the Rorke Store Museum across the street from The Stone Jug, the Carbonear Railway Museum, the Old Post Office Museum and several small businesses. Over the summer, The Stone Jug had 70 people on its payroll and hosted weddings almost every week. It has also served as a venue for charity events and entertainers.
"For me, I thought there was potential in Carbonear, but Carbonear had not realized its potential yet," he said. "And you see now, we are starting to develop up a little bit down here. Slowly, but it is changing, and it is changing for the positive."
Branan gives credit the local town council for being a good municipal government to work it. The town recently paid for an economic development study focused on downtown redevelopment, and the odds are any plans for generating more opportunities in downtown Carbonear will hinge on the continued existence of The Stone Jug.
Originally known as Rorke's Stone Jug, construction on this historic property started in 1860.