Rob and Nancy Moore
Beach lovers and co-owners of the Cardinal Cafe & Shop
Sharbot Lake, Ontario – Frontenac County
It’s rare to catch Rob and Nancy Moore in an idle moment; the two are in their element when bustling around their hip and trendy Sharbot Lake business, the Cardinal Café & Shop. Located in a renovated church, complete with stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings, the Cardinal Café is a busy and lively space, combining the warmth and friendliness of an old-fashioned country store with the chic vibe of an urban café.
The café is where locals and visitors alike flock for respite from the busy world, and where, in true Cheers style, if Rob and Nancy don’t know your name when you walk in, they soon will.
While visitors love the café for its warm, friendly atmosphere, for Rob and Nancy, the café is the latest in more than 20 years of adventure together; adventures that have taken the pair from the city streets of London, Ontario, to living their dream life in rural Ontario’s Highlands. Today, the couple are raising their two young children in the heart of a community that has welcomed them with open arms, and living a life they always dreamed about.
I’m curious about how you ended up in Sharbot Lake. What attracted you to this part of Ontario’s Highlands?
Nancy: Rob was in the culinary field when we were dating and early in our marriage, when we realized we were going to be having a family, we made the decision for Rob to leave the culinary industry. My brother, Kevin, is a trade carpenter, so Rob started working with him, which was great.
Rob: Then Nancy’s brother ended up moving out to Sharbot Lake, and we came out to help him build his place and get him settled. Basically, we really got sick of driving home. It’s so nice out here, and we’d talk about how we wished we could live here, too. We were driving back and forth a lot, and five hours of driving gives you a lot of time to think. Once it was established that there were work opportunities out here, that was our opportunity to transition out here, too.
Sounds like the drive was a good time for you two to chat about life. How did you end up as owners of the Cardinal Café?
Rob: We were nine-to-fivers, we didn’t have the ability to make a venture like this happen, it was always just a dream or aspiration for us. I was working for a local construction company who bought the church, and their daughter opened the café. We bought it as a turnkey business in 2016, and thanks to the tremendous community support we’ve gotten, we’ve been growing steadily ever since.
You really are living your dream, now, and in more ways than one! I hear you have a thing for churches, what’s that all about?
Nancy: I love old churches, I’ve always wanted to live in one. We used to tour around and look at old abandoned churches and ask ourselves what we could do with the space.
Rob: This church (Cardinal Café) is a space we’d always been interested in, it was in such a beautiful spot, and had lots of potential. Nancy was always saying, “Wouldn’t this make a great coffee shop?” And here we are today, with a coffee shop (laughs).
Old churches do make great repurposed buildings, especially in small communities. What would you say is the best thing about living in your community?
Nancy: I guess for me it’s just about being part of something, like being in a small community like this you feel like you’re part of it. In a big city you’re just somebody walking around, but here, I’m Nancy. Also, there’s way less traffic. Here, we can commute to work without the stress. Life is more tranquil living here.
I’m guessing your daily commute is pretty short these days. If you could do anything, what would your perfect day in Ontario’s Highlands look like?
Nancy: My perfect day would be sleeping in until 9 a.m., maybe going for a massage at Annette’s down the road or going for a swim at the beach…it would probably be the four of us having a nice dinner, and then afterwards, we’d sit on the porch and watch the water. We spend a lot of our evenings out there. Basically, just a quiet, peaceful day.
That sounds like a relaxing way to spend the day. What’s the best part about owning a local business in Ontario’s Highlands?
Nancy: We really love meeting people. The population expands here during the summer, and new people are finding us all the time. The interactions that we have here in the summer are special, and seeing people’s excitement as they come in to this space is really something. We come home at the end of the day with great stories about the people we met during the day.
I’m sure there are a lot of interesting people who wander through the café. What does wandering mean to you two, and how do you wander?
Rob: I think wandering means exploring, like traveling the back roads when you don’t know where they go. Like when we’re visiting one of our friends who lives on another lake, we travel the back roads and we go deeper and deeper into places we didn’t even know existed, but at the end of our trip, we’re with our friends, by the fire, and it’s familiar, but the trip there is unfamiliar.
Nancy: I really enjoy wandering and finding a new beach, and there’s so much beautiful water here it’s easy to find.
Those sound like two great ways to wander! What is one “hidden gem” in your backyard that visitors would be surprised to discover?
Nancy: Of course, there’s the Cardinal Café, which is a real hidden gem. People come in and say they can’t believe that we’re here, especially people from the city who don’t want to compromise their coffee experience, they love finding us in what they think is the middle of nowhere. Then, of course, there’s all the lakes, we’re surrounded by 5,000 lakes and people don’t realize how much water there is here.
Rob: For me, Perth was one of the first hidden gems we stumbled across here. It’s a beautiful spot and you can really kill a day at cool places to eat, like Picnic Café & Catering and The Fieldhouse, and Stewart Park is amazing. The first time we went, we were like: “Wow, this is right in our backyard.”
It’s always exciting to discover a new eatery right in your own backyard! If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be, and where in Ontario’s Highlands can you find it?
Nancy: (laughs) Oh boy that’s a tough one! The first thing I thought of was cheese, and I would get it at Back Forty Artisan Cheese on Highway 509. My second thought was meat, and I’d get that from Seed to Sausage in Sharbot Lake. So…cheese and meat, although at Seed to Sausage they have sausages that have cheese in them, too!
Sounds delicious! If you could only attend one event or festival in Ontario’s Highlands this year, which one would you choose?
Rob: I have a personal interest in anything culinary, so the event I thought was the most compelling was Barns, Farms & Wicked Chefs. It takes place each August, and it is all about local food and local chefs. Because summer is our busiest time, the best way I’m usually able to attend festivals is as a vendor.
Good choice, Barns, Farms & Wicked Chefs is a fun (and delicious) event. How and where do you unwind/recharge at the end of a busy week?
Rob: That’s easy. When we first moved out here, we had a two-acre property about seven minutes away from the village, but once we bought the café we realized that being close to the café was the best way to feel like we were really part of the community, so we relocated only a few minutes away by foot. The front porch of our house looks over the water and because we’re renters instead of owners, for the first time in our life when we’re done work we can sit down on the porch and there’s nothing to do but relax. Our friends walk or bike by, and the porch is the perfect place to unwind, sit and read books, or have a cup of tea, coffee, or glass of wine.
That sounds relaxing, and a great way to unwind. What is your favourite time of year in Ontario’s Highlands? Why?
Nancy: I can honestly say I love all of the seasons out here. I enjoy winter, I like the quiet that the winter brings; I obviously love the spring because everything’s blooming; summer is fun, it’s our busiest time of the year so it’s very exciting for us; and then the fall is beautiful, the colours are beautiful. We go home at the end of the day each day in the summer, and say that was such a fun day, but then when the fall comes and the winter, it allows us to take a little bit of a step back so that’s a great time as well. I love all the seasons!
It’s tough to pick just one season, they can all be fantastic. What has been your favourite spontaneous discovery in Ontario’s Highlands, and why?
Nancy: We stumbled across Sand Lake, which is a really private, very quiet little beach up in Plevna. It has a beautiful sand bottom, and it’s just the perfect place for kids and everybody to play. We like to make trips there now, and there’s a little ice cream store we always stop at on the way there, and then we spend the day at the beach.
Beach days sound like fun! What’s the one thing you recommend wanderers to the region DON’T bring with them?
Nancy: Don’t bring your cellphone. I know that our business is a place people can come and use as a hotspot, but for everything else, I’d put it away. We all have busy lives, and need to keep in contact with people, but when you’re here and you’re surrounded by so much beauty and nature, it’s important to just be able to put it down and turn it off. Or don’t bring it with you in the first place.
Good advice. How would you say wandering in Ontario’s Highlands compares to travel in a bigger city, like Toronto or Ottawa?
Rob: When we lived in London, we would wander around the downtown core, and we may not have had an idea for a destination, but we were still in familiar territory. We would basically be trying to pretend we weren’t in the city when we were wandering, whereas around here you’re truly in a wilderness place. It’s a totally different experience.
Nancy: For me, my anxiety goes up when I hit the city now, I’m not relaxed at all. But when we’re wandering here I feel tranquil; the stress is gone, the noise is gone, it gives you more time to discover new opportunities.
Last question: What’s your road trip go-to music, the songs that you play when you head out on the road for a getaway?
Rob: I’m a music guy so this is really hard to pin down….there are a lot of candidates. Classically, our road trip songs have been Queens in the Stone Age. It’s an album, like it’s a real road trip album. The music scrolls through the radio between songs, so it’s just like it would be if you were listening to the radio on a road trip, and then it will stop at another song. We also love to play Sarah Harmer when we head out on a road trip, she’s from Eastern Ontario, and it’s like we’re taking a piece of home with us.