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05/31/2021

The Front Porch reinvented, from ice cream to cafe and convenience store

The Front Porch cafe and convenience store
Photo: Facebook

The Keeping family of Mulgrave, N.S. has been adding some fun to the town's summers for nine years, ever since they opened the Ice Cream Barn on Murray Street. And this year, as they celebrate staying cool for 10 years, the family is working on turning up the heat and putting on a pot of coffee.

This spring, the Keepings announced that the ice cream barn would be relocating and expanding, bringing a cafe and grocery items to The Front Porch, their newest venture located on the waterfront in McNairs Cove, across from the Mulgrave Heritage Centre.

Katlin Keeping told The Journal on May 16 that the family always knew the intention going forward with the ice cream shop, was to eventually start a cafe and "based on our increase in sales and our customers over the last two years, we decided that this would be a good year to do it despite the pandemic; last year was actually our best year ever.''

It didn't hurt that town council supported them in the new endeavour. While council supports local business, the need for a convenience store has long been an issue in Mulgrave. Residents have to drive out of town to buy basic grocery needs.

Mulgrave Mayor Ron Chisholm said May 14, "When I canvased for the mayor's job, 90% of the people, the biggest thing they were looking for was a convenience store; somewhere you could buy bread and milk, butter, eggs -- stuff like that.''

Council has been looking for a solution to this problem for years -- now they've found one.

Chisholm said the town, which owns the property on the waterfront, "came up with a good lease for them (the Keepings), 1/8and 3/8 made some renovations to help accommodate their business.''

Running a small convenience store out of The Front Porch, said Chisholm, "is part of the lease agreement.''

The surge in COVID-19 cases and the resulting lockdown has put a wrench in the plans for the new cafe, but nothing time can't solve. Keeping said the new measures will impact the original date slated for opening -- from the long weekend in May to the first of June. Some equipment and installation of Wi-Fi, which is necessary to run the debit machine, have been delayed, which has had a knock-on effect on the entire operation. And until public health restrictions are lifted, the business will operate through a pick-up window only.

Keeping said the need for a convenience store in Mulgrave was one they knew first-hand, both as business owners and through their customers' requests. "During the time when we had the ice cream barn open, there were many times when people would come and ask us if we sold milk or if we sold bags of chips ? We did start to carry bags of ice because again that is something you can't get within the town.

"Even for us, if we ran out of milk for milk shakes, we would have to leave the town to go and pick up a jug. It is definitely a need especially with the 1/8COVID-19 3/8 restrictions and the number of seniors within our town; the comfort for them not having to leave the community to go and get their groceries,'' she said.

The plan is to operate The Front Porch 12 months of the year, with reduced hours in the off-season "for the first two years and then, depending on traffic flow and numbers that come in, we'll decide if we'll make it a seasonal venture,'' said Keeping adding, "In such a small town I feel we'll have enough to keep us going for the 12 months, especially in the harsh winter when people are less likely to drive out of town.''

Looking ahead, Keeping said, "We are hoping for the support of our town, we have already gotten the support from town council, they have been very supportive in assisting us, encouraging us, helping with the renovations. The support we have gotten for the ice cream barn the past nine years has been absolutely phenomenal just within the town and the surrounding communities. We hope that will carry over to our new business. If restrictions get lifted, I do expect to see a good amount of traffic flow.''