‘Boutique hospitality’ venues feed post-pandemic hunger for corporate retreats, getaways

At least two “boutique hospitality” companies in Eastern Ontario are catering to a growing desire for corporate retreats that are a nice getaway for Zoomed-out employees looking to reconnect, but not too far from home.

“We see an opportunity to serve the business community with the perfect collaborative work retreat,” says Marilou Arends, co-owner of Maple & Rose, formerly Mill Isle Bed & Breakfast, in Merrickville.

“The trend that we’re seeing is people wanting to stay a bit closer to home; do some travelling, but stay close and staying local is definitely coming up a lot more,” says Kate Folk, who is the general manager and co-owner of Maple & Rose alongside Arends.

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“Corporate team-building events have started to become popular again,” adds Cynthia Peters, chef instructor and founder of From the Farm Cooking School and owner of Maison Maitland near Brockville. “They’re a great way for co-workers to reconnect after working from home the last couple of years.”

Kate Folk is the general manager of Maple & Rose.

According to Yellow House, a global event management firm with an office in Toronto, well-planned corporate group travel and retreats in “cool outdoor locations” are going to spike as a key business tool in 2023. The experiential marketing firm says that this is especially true for company meetings that involve travel to an outdoor destination, adding that 80 per cent of its current business now falls into the retreat category, up from 20 per cent in 2019.

Future’s Past Events is another corporate event service firm based in Toronto. It lists event transformation (where guests are immersed in a memorable “experience”), unique venues, exciting or adventurous catering, and guest interaction (such as mixology classes or art workshops) as trends to watch in 2023.

Maple & Rose and Maison Maitland seem well positioned to take advantage. They’re both located in small tourist communities but each has a distinct style. Maple & Rose is an 1850s Victorian brick home on an acre of lawn with century-old maple trees set within sight of the Rideau Canal and the village of Merrickville. Maison Maitland is a Georgian period palladian-style stone house set on five acres of land overlooking the St. Lawrence River on Hwy. 2 in the village of Maitland. 

Their business models also diverge. Maison Maitland is a culinary school first and foremost, while Maple & Rose is a venue for people to connect in whatever way they choose.

“Food is so fresh and so authentic in Europe and it’s a way of life, we’re such a processed continent over here. In a way I’m trying to replicate that authentic European feeling as much as possible in what I’m trying to create here,” says Peters.

She offers a number of culinary experiences, from half-day classes for teams of two cooking a lunch, to group classes for up to 10 people making a three-course meal, to team-building events for up to 60 people. In each instance, the participants get to enjoy the food they’ve prepared along with a bonding experience.

At Maple & Rose, customers get to choose their own theme, or no theme at all.

“When people are booking, I can ask them, ‘What is it you’re looking for, what is this visit about to you, who’s coming and how can I support you with that?’” says Folk. 

The idea is to tap into local talent and curate whatever the customers want, whether that’s organizing a local chef to cook a meal for the group or give a cooking lesson, or organizing yoga in the back yard with a local teacher.

As Folk explains, the idea behind Maple & Rose was inspired by her father, who passed away a year ago.

“In navigating through our grief and thinking about all the things we loved about dad and his legacy, we kept going back to the idea of connection, because that was one of his main teachings — the importance of connection with others,” says Folk.

At Maison Maitland, it was demand that spurred Peters to leave Prince Edward County and seek a space that would allow her to add accommodations to her already successful culinary school.

“I just noticed over the years that people were asking for accommodations, alongside the school,” says Peters, who is building two additional villas on the property to rent out to guests.

“I’m putting finishes and thought into the decor. It’s going to be a modern European feeling and so I’m incorporating as many local touches as possible from local artists,” says Peters.

At Maple & Rose, Folk says they’re doing everything they can to restore the home to its “original splendour.”

“Everything that we do inside is going to be local, so local artwork and local ceramics, and there are so many really special stories attached to this house and we want people to come to Merrickville to experience this house and its stories,” says Folk.

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