New owners of The Sands grateful for warm welcome to area

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Golden Lake –The Sands on Golden Lake has new owners and they are grateful for the warm welcome they have received since acquiring the business in mid-October.

Joanne Lovering and her son, Zach, bought the business from Craig Purcell on October 14 and are looking forward to carrying on and building on the respected reputation The Sands is known for.

Natives of Toronto, they relocated to the Combermere area two-and-a-half years ago. Ms. Lovering said the decision to pick that area was “almost like throwing a dart.

“We wanted to get out of the city” she said. “This was just before COVID and we had no idea it was coming. We wanted to move up north somewhere because we both enjoy nature.

“We had no connection to any particular community, so it actually really made it very difficult,” she added.

Her first thought was the Muskoka area, since she vacationed there as a child, but Zach felt that area was too busy. So she went online to see what properties might be for sale that appealed to her.

“I saw this place in Combermere and it looked beautiful, so we came up and we looked at it, as we did many places. It was a little further away than we thought we’d initially go, but we loved it and it was time to make a change.”

A former journalist who most recently wrote for The Business Times for the Mississauga News, she wanted a change in careers due to the demands of the occupation. At the same time, Zach, was a full-contact jouster who started at Medieval Times but went on to join a professional troupe that toured at competitions across North America. After several years, he was forced to retire from the more extreme types of competitions after sustaining numerous concussions.

After acquiring the Combermere property, they started a one-room bed and breakfast called Squee’s Forest.

“We had 30 acres so we made a few campsites as well and started business that way,” she said. “It was nice. We were working together.”     

It had been their vision to do something together and she said things went well.

“Zach’s a great host and a great cook too, so then I thought we have to do more than this.”

Her first idea was to acquire another cottage to rent out, but prices went crazy after COVID hit.

“Looking at it from a business perspective, it was very hard to figure out how it could make money,” she said.

Fell In Love With Location

She expanded her search to locations with more cabins and her realtor suggested The Sands because she was looking to expand her business and it was already operating.

While she was not looking at something as large as The Sands, she was immediately drawn to the property because of the beautiful waterfront location. Zach said he told his mother not to purchase a restaurant as they can be difficult to operate, but before he knew it she had made an offer to buy the restaurant, motel, cottages and spa.  

“It was crazy but pretty exciting. It really didn’t sink in. I tried not to think about it until it closed,” he said.

He has extensive experience in management and bartending at different high-volume restaurants in the city and at various events with crews of over 100.

He said those skills are all transferable to the new business.

“If you know people, you can do a restaurant,” he said.

“And I watched the way he did the B and B and he was great with people,” Ms. Lovering added.

No Immediate Changes

The Sands property includes 14 motel rooms, three chalets, a cottage, the spa, restaurant and banquet hall.

Ms. Lovering is incredibly impressed with the staff and all are staying on.

“They run the place,” she said.

Clifford Coulas will continue as head chef and they are considering some changes to the menu. She and Zach are both vegetarians, so the addition of a few vegetarian items is in the works. They have introduced a few of the proposed dishes on occasion to positive reviews.

“And we’ll have some new desserts coming out that we’ve test-tasted with the staff and anybody else that was around,” she said.

They plan to operate the business the same way until she has had more time to assess what does or does not need revamping.

“My first job is observation, what’s operating well, what’s making money, what’s not operating well, what’s not making money.

“For the foreseeable future there’s not going to be any major changes. We’re just going to try and improve it a little bit,” she added.

They have already implemented some events at the request of locals and have welcomed their input.

“They want to meet me and have a bit of a relationship and know what’s happening with the place,” she said. “The people have been fantastic, much more personable than I thought they’d be. Maybe that’s the Toronto gal in me.”

They have re-introduced Wing Night, and will be following with a Karaoke Night, Music Night, and a hoped-for Polar Bear Plunge on December.

“I’m hoping to work out some type of charity thing where The Sands pays $5 for every person that jumps in the lake,” Zach noted. “Or maybe bring a new toy for a kid.”

Ms. Lovering would love to enhance the waterfront with a Tikki bar, outdoor couches, etc.

“Give it a real Mexican vibe,” Zach noted.

 While the business traditionally shut down the first two weeks of November for the deer hunt, they remained open this year, giving staff their usual two weeks off, and going with Zach as the chef and his girlfriend, Lexie, doing the serving.

They are getingt some bookings for Christmas parties and reservations for weddings next year are already very encouraging.

Ms. Lovering said the business will continue to operate as The Sands on Golden Lake as it is very appropriate for the location that boasts a large beach and spectacular view of the lake.