Nfld. & Labrador

Smugglers Cove: Why these guys are keeping a friend's ambitious dream alive

When their close friend Tom Hollett died suddenly, Paddy Kavanaugh and Mike Brennan decided to keep his big dreams going by opening a roadhouse bar and grill.

Roadhouse was the brainchild of former Jiffy Cabs owner Tom Hollett, who died in 2016

Paddy Kavanaugh and Mike Brennan, close friends of Tom Hollett, wanted to make sure his roadhouse dream continued on. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

A western-style roadhouse bar and grill on the Burin Peninsula does more than serve up good times: it's how two friends are helping to keep the memory of a deceased friend and businessman alive. 

Tom Hollett, who was well known as the owner of Jiffy Cabs in St. John's, had moved back to his hometown of Burin to try to bring tourism to the part of the province he loved.

But his death in a motorcycle accident in 2016 cut short his dreams of building up the tourism industry on the Burin Peninsula. 

The Smugglers Cove Roadhouse was a dream for Hollett, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2016, and one of two dozen plans he had in the works for the Burin Peninsula, said friend Paddy Kavanaugh.

Hollett planned to turn the property into a roadhouse patio bar and grill in the style of the American Wild West, but featuring foods from along the eastern seaboard.

"His dream was to reach out to the globe to have them come to Burin, Newfoundland, and in turn they would experience how beautiful the Burin region is," said another friend, Mike Brennan.

That dream was one of the many "crazy ideas" that Kavanaugh said he worked on for Hollett. Kavanaugh began working for him about 13 years ago when he changed jobs because of a cancer diagnosis.

"Tom was the kind of guy, he wanted to [help] me out," he said. "And from there, me and him just took off."

Kavanaugh and Brennan worried that Hollett's big plans would end when he died three years ago, and decided to prevent that from happening.

"We were quite concerned that this whole beautiful property, that it would stop here," Brennan said. 

He and Kavanaugh contacted Hollett's estate in hopes of taking over the property, and keeping the dream alive.

The Wild West comes to Burin

The Roadhouse now hosts events, live music and an international conference, Live at Heart Newfoundland, on its 1.7-hectare property.

There's a main musical stage designed to look like a rum barrel, in commemoration of the area's rum-smuggling history  "not a tradition, it's a God-given right for some people," Brennan said.

The Smugglers Cove Roadhouse is located on the Burin Peninsula. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

A boardwalk runs along a hill that Kavanaugh called Boys Pond when he was growing up, and the background features gorgeous views and a sun that sets between two hills. 

The property is designed to look like an old western town, something that Brennan said was Hollett's doing, inspired by road trips in the United States.

"He had a mindset that this roadhouse bar and grill had to look like the stuff from down south, and he wanted to bring that and incorporate it up here," he said.

The Wild West theme of the roadhouse was inspired by Hollett's trips in the United States, his friends said. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Going with a design from another place and time was a way to add something unique to the property, beyond what might be expected in rural Newfoundland, he said.

"He wanted to bring some of his memories to life," Kavanaugh added.

'Right to the sky'

Things have been going well at Smugglers Cove so far, Brennan said, with musical acts being brought in from elsewhere in the province and events being booked for the venue, which has a capacity of about 120 inside and 1,250 outside. Chefs have come in to do special meals, and a partnership with a local busing company allows guests to head home safely at a low cost, he said.

Hollett was known for his love of motorcycles and for projects he helped fund in his hometown of Burin. (Martine Blue/CBC)

But the plans don't stop here, said Kavanaugh, who when asked where they hoped to bring things next said "right to the sky." Glamping and cabins are possibilities for the future, as well as ziplines. 

"It's the kind of things that are outside the box that we're looking for, to draw people in that are outside the region," Brennan said.

Tune in: Listen as Heather Barrett pays a visit to Smugglers Cove, and two other curious locations in N.L. 

We'll visit Smuggler's Cove on the Burin Peninsula, meet a 71-year-old man who just wrapped up a cross-Canada bicycle trip, and hear about writer Michael Crummey's incredible year with his novel, The Innocents 34:16

Both men think their friend would be pleased to see the progress at the site so far.

"Oh, he'd have a smile ear to ear," Kavanaugh said. 

"He'd say, 'B'ys, you're nuts, just like me.'"

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.