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It’s taken longer than expected.
But on Friday, longtime Island friends and business partners James Van Toever and Robert van Waarden are officially opening Red Island Cider in Charlottetown and pouring pints for customers.
“I would count on one hand the amount of people I would get into business with,” said van Waarden.
The business is located at 101 Longworth Ave. in the same building that also has Hot Shots Sports Bar as a tenant. The plan is to be open 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
They’re occupying a space that has previously been used for storage by the Charlottetown Police Services. As a result, the space had to undergo renovations to meet the city’s codes for a cidery, as well as a retail area and bar that can serve up to 15 customers.
“It’s a good stop on the way if you’re on the (Confederation) Trail,” said Rod Weatherbie, the business’s manager.
Van Toever, originally from Brookvale, and van Waarden, from New Glasgow, have been friends since childhood.
They began planning the business in January 2018. In September 2018, while a resident company at Charlottetown’s Startup Zone, they were one of 10 recipients of a $25,000 grant from the province’s Ignition Fund.
The original idea was to operate out of a big, open garage in Hartsville and have cider ready for retail by Christmas.
But the provincial government’s planning department had concerns with a cidery in that area and the type of septic system it would need. As those issues were being sorted out, the department of transportation shut down the project over concerns with the lack of sightlines for the property’s commercial driveway.
As the owners were looking for a new place, another issue arose on Nov. 26 when DME (Diversified Metal Engineering) went into receivership. Fortunately, they were able to get their equipment from DME about a month later.
It’s taken about 18 months and a lot of obstacles to overcome, but now they’re finally ready to open.
On tap, they’re offering three ciders – Father Walker’s, The Devonport and a third yet to be determined. The ciders each tell an Island story.
The Devonport was a brewery in Charlottetown in the mid-1800s located where the experimental farm is today. Besides the brewery, the area had four acres of fields growing hops, said van Waarden.
Father Walker’s is inspired by the story of a parish priest in Groshaut, located on the present-day Selkirk Road (Route 309), trying to raise money for a new church in the community. In 1896, Father Walker held a picnic one weekend to raise the money. On Saturday, cider was served at the picnic, but rather than it being “soft” cider, it was “hard” cider with alcohol.
“It turned into a bit of a brawl and a party,” said van Waarden.
The next day, word got out about the cider, and a lot of people showed up for the picnic. But Walker watered down the cider this time to keep things in order. The event inspired a well-known Island song – The Picnic at Groshaut.
Besides the two main ciders on tap, they’re planning to release a blueberry cider called Blue Shank Blueberry in recognition of the Blue Shank Road, as well as ciders that will be part of a “Ghost Ship Series” that connects with the Island’s history of shipwrecks.
So far, four Charlottetown businesses have signed up to offer Red Islands Cider’s products – The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse, The Hopyard, Churchill Arms and Bar 1911.
They’re also selling cider in growlers, kegs and bottles.
“We can comfortably do 40,000 litres a year,” said van Waarden.
“I think one of our challenges is going to be keeping up with demand this summer.”