John Likely and Liam Dolan stood on the second floor of a historic yet antiquated warehouse in downtown Charlottetown and shivered. It was 1994, and the blustery Canadian wind rattled the panes of the former window factory. Snow seeped in through the many cracks in the wall, as if signifying the true nature of the place. Yet, as the two men walked around the edifice and looked at the gray waters in full view, all they could envision was sun, seafood, and seafarers looking for a place to unwind. On that brisk winter day, one of Prince Edward Island’s hottest restaurants and nightclubs was born.
“We just saw the view, and we saw how beautiful it was,” says Likely, who along with Dolan is co-owner of Peake’s Quay. “We just sort of sat around and said if we were big enough, we could handle the cruise ships, conventions, and all the summer tourists that come to Prince Edward Island each year.”
With the restaurant’s 400-plus-seat dining room, a stunning second-storey deck that showcases Prince Edward Island’s beautiful waterfront vistas, a nightclub, and a maximum capacity of 600, Peake’s Quay has come a long way from its origins as a sleepy restaurant.
However, the success isn’t surprising, given the backgrounds of the owners.
Before he signed up with Likely to purchase Peake’s Quay, Dolan was a successful restaurateur. A native of Ireland, he had already opened a fine-dining establishment and an Irish Pub on Prince Edward Island. Likely, a native of Charlottetown, grew up in a family of food wholesalers. When Peake’s Quay, then just a small restaurant on the second floor of the warehouse, went up for sale, the duo jumped at the opportunity.
“We’re very fortunate to have such a prime location on the water,” Dolan says. “When people come here, they sit down on our deck and relax. You can be downtown, but you don’t feel like its downtown; it’s like your own private sanctuary.”
Dolan and Likely bought the lease on the restaurant, expanded the second-floor deck, added extra retail space to the first floor, and doubled the work staff. The two men worked for a couple of years without a salary, putting every dime they made back into the business.
“We believed in our idea, and we didn’t want to have obstacles in the way,” Dolan says. “We wanted to pay down our debt, to make sure it was comfortable and that we were not under a financial strain. We were very careful on how we made our decision to expand.”
In the midst of this growth, Likely and Dolan were doing their usual restaurant cleanup one night when they looked next door and saw opportunity knocking again.
“We looked out the window at this bar, and it was packed every night,” Likely says. “We thought, ‘We’d like to get a piece of that.’” With that thought, the Peake’s Quay Night Club was born.
By 1999, the owners had purchased the building that housed Peake’s Quay and leased out the space on the bottom floor to more retailers.
Following yet another success, the two tackled both Mother Nature and Father Time. The winter makes tourist seasons unbearably short in Prince Edward Island, with the peak season arriving in July and lasting through August. Dolan and Likely extended their restaurant’s operating time by first adding heaters to the fabulous deck, and then by sponsoring local festivals on off-peak days. In fact, Peake’s Quay helped host the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival, which welcomed more than 15,000 visitors in September 2011.
“We’re probably at a five-and-a-half-month season right now,” Likely says. “We’re looking to expand to a full seven months.”
Likely and Dolan say that fortune has smiled upon them with great weather, good staff, and many opportunities. But a shrewd businessperson can see these two didn’t sit back and wait for growth to arrive—they made it happen.
“Food with a view was our goal,” Likely says. “I’d say we’ve accomplished that!”