CRAPAUD, P.E.I. - Alie Mills knew the first time she went into the Red Rooster in 2014 and had a meal with her husband that one day she wanted to own the restaurant.
“This is it,” she recalled saying at the time.
Four years later, on July 23, Mills’ wish came true when she officially took over as the new owner of the Red Rooster Family Restaurant along the Trans-Canada Highway in Crapaud.
Marion Miller, who owned the Red Rooster since Oct. 6, 1973, knows she’s leaving the business in good hands after nearly 45 years. Miller is staying on to help with the transition, then she’s planning to retire.
“I’ll miss the people. But, I only live a few miles away, so it’s no big deal. I feel I left it in good hands, so I’m not concerned about that part of it,” said Miller.
Mills’ dream to own a “little restaurant in the country” started about 25 years ago when she trained to be a chef in Ontario. A few years later, she moved to the Island with her husband to do just that – open a restaurant – but the deal fell through. Then, they put in an offer on another restaurant, but it burned down.
After stints as a professional gardener and a real estate agent, Mills finally has her own restaurant. She has also worked at the Red Rooster as a waitress for the past three years. Miller set the sale price so it could be affordable for Mills.
Miller said there’s a few reasons why the restaurant has been successful for so long – home cooking, the menu, reasonable prices and friendly staff who interact with customers, give them directions and tell them about the Island way of life.
Traffic off the Confederation Bridge and generations of repeat customers have also helped, she said.
“I’ll miss the people. But, I only live a few miles away, so it’s no big deal. I feel I left it in good hands, so I’m not concerned about that part of it.”
Miller has plenty to do in retirement with grandchildren, community involvement and serving as president of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce.
The community has been paying close attention to find out about the sale of the business.
“The community has been following us through this journey. Every day, what’s going on now?” said Mills. “And then, when the word was out that it actually happened, I had people coming to the door at two o’clock in the afternoon just to say congratulations. And then stick their head in to Marion and say ‘good for you’.”
The original Red Rooster was built in 1953. When Miller and her husband Edgar took over in 1973, they decided it would make more sense to build a new restaurant rather than repair the existing building.
“It was sitting on the ground,” said Miller.
As well, there was only a $10,000 difference between building a new restaurant and repairing the old one. So, it was torn down, and a new and larger restaurant built on the other side of the parking lot.
The revised Red Rooster opened in November 1974. The stools along the counter in the current restaurant are the same ones that were in the original business. For a while, the Millers also operated a motel on the property.
The Millers acquired the business as a result of a vacation to P.E.I. from Hamilton, Ont., in the summer of 1973. While visiting, they thought the Island would be a good place to settle down, so they started looking around for a house, then a restaurant. At the time, the Millers owned The Lunch Bucket in Hamilton.
They made an offer on the Red Rooster, but left the Island without seeing it in person. About a week later, the offer was accepted.
“Well, you better go back there and see what we offered to buy,” she recalled saying to her husband. Edgar drove back and liked what he saw. The Millers bought the place, packed up with their dog and moved to P.E.I.
As the new owner, Mills is planning some changes. The restaurant will no longer open seasonally. Instead, Mills is keeping it open full-time until the third week of October, and then Thursday to Sunday until closing in January and February.
For Easter, she plans to open a bakery and café in the basement with seating for 12. Other plans include an interactive garden to educate children about food, an extended front deck, and a fenced-in area for visitors with dogs.
One thing that isn’t going to change is the name.
“It’s always been the Red Rooster. It’s always going to be the Red Rooster.”