On the Right Track

Jaime Zehr and Eric Neal are living out their dream with Kensington’s Island Stone Pub

Most of the time a vacation is simply a chance to get away from it all and rejuvenate, but sometimes it can be life-changing. Sometimes you pull up stakes, move to a little island, and open up a pub. At least that’s how things unfolded for Jaime Zehr and Eric Neal, proprietors of the Island Stone Pub in Kensington, which celebrated its second anniversary on April 23 of this year.

Four short years ago, the couple visited the Island for the first time and within a few months had made the move from Ontario to PEI. Soon after settling in central PEI, they found themselves taking yet another leap into the unknown, buying the Island Stone Pub from its previous owner. Neither had ever owned a restaurant, though together they brought culinary and customer experience to the table.

“I started my professional career in healthcare. First in nursing, then migrating into a sales manager role with a leading medical equipment company. I have had various jobs throughout my life in restaurants, catering, and farming… This field is where I always tended to migrate,” said Zehr, who grew up on a family farm in rural southwestern Ontario, where she watched her parents tend to crops and livestock.

“The respect for the earth and what it provides was instilled in us early by my parents,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to be in the kitchen. Cooking is so natural to me. This profession offers a great mix of creativity, passion, logistics, stress, and satisfaction.”
While Zehr looks after back-of-house activities, Neal oversees the ever-important front-of-house duties.

“He is the familiar face that welcomes each guest, remembers their names and their favourite drink. He orchestrates the flow. This comes naturally to Eric because in his past life he managed various sales and customer service divisions in corporate and private companies,” Zehr said.

The Island Stone Pub’s unique location in the historic Kensington train station was a selling point for Zehr and Neal, who had been on the lookout for the right business opportunity since arriving on the Island. The railway station, built in 1905, was one of only two on the Island built with fieldstones. It retains much of its original majestic character and is an attraction itself for visitors to the town. That the current tenants of the town-owned station are the Island Stone Pub and the Kensington Liquor Store likely adds to its appeal amongst visitors and locals.

Exterior shot of Island Stone Pub, with railway tracks in foreground. Building made of fieldstones.

The Island Stone Pub is located in the historic Kensington railway station, built in 1905. Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Zehr said they were drawn to the Island Stone Pub because it enabled both her and Neal to use their diverse skills, share their common love of all things culinary, and create a place for community and visitors to meet, share, and feel like they were home.

Upon taking over the town’s only (at the time) pub, the pair began reimagining the food offerings. They wanted to create an eclectic menu using a variety of local, seasonal ingredients in new, less familiar ways. At first, others cautioned them that customers might not embrace their different concoctions, but their ever-changing menu has been very well received by the pub’s patrons.

“Our guests are adventurous and seem to trust us,” said Zehr. “Some come weekly for their favourites and some come to be surprised with what’s on our feature board.”

The menu, which changes with the season, features fusion-style options such as Korean Style Grilled PEI Beef Ribs, Pescados Fritos, Curry Chicken Burrito, and Fish Tacos, alongside familiar pub staples that have universal appeal, such as the Classic Island Burger and Station Wings. Both Zehr and Neal are looking forward to mussels, lobster, crab, and scallops reappearing on their menu. Zehr notes that they are heading into the best time of year from a culinary perspective with summer soups, chowders, fresh vegetables and berries, and of course, the aforementioned seafood delights.


The interior of the Island Stone Pub retains much of its original character. Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Neal and Zehr strongly believe in treating others the way they would like to be treated and try to instill this in every facet of how they run the Island Stone Pub. They also recognize their important role as a gathering place in the community. Outside their busy summer season, they host trivia every Thursday night (“It is a fun, light-hearted night but winning is always on everyone’s mind,” Zehr said) and have also held painting classes and other community events in the pub.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our incredible crew,” Zehr said. In much the same way a family gathers over dinner to discuss what the future might hold for the household, Zehr and Neal sit down with their energetic, positive crew regularly to discuss how the pub can continue to thrive.

As they head into their third year of operation, the couple is optimistic they’ll continue to attract locals and visitors to the Island Stone Pub. They both feel fortunate to be able to live out their dream in the Town of Kensington with, as Zehr puts it, “such humbling support from our guests and farming partners.”
The Island Stone Pub is open year-round, Wednesdays through Saturdays. Starting in mid-June they will be open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner service.

About Ilona Berzins

Writing is a passion for Ilona. Food, especially savouring every morsel is more than a hobby. Being allowed to contribute to Salty enables her to combine two of her loves. An admitted grammar perfectionist she now has to apply all those rules to her own writing. Ilona resides in rural PEI and is currently living overseas on another Island with many trips back home to PEI, when the snow is gone of course.

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