Customer Story – Old Marina Restaurant brings joy to local kids

Nov 22, 2021

There are plenty of reasons to visit the Old Marina Restaurant in Cambridge: the stunning waterfront views, the outstanding burgers and seafood, and the exceptional service led by owner Joel Cook and his team. It’s a casual spot with friendly, welcoming faces all around and a menu any diner can love. The Old Marina Restaurant is nestled on the shores of Puslinch Lake, offering comfortable outdoor seating that overlooks the water from its dockside patio. Indoors, the vibe is just as inviting—and better yet, they have a great story.

Joel started working at the restaurant when he was 21 and spent 14 years moving up the ranks. When he had the opportunity to buy the restaurant in 2018, Joel made the leap to owner—and then, the pandemic hit. Things got challenging fast, but Joel has more than risen to the occasion. Here’s how the Old Marina has brought joy to kids and families while taking care of their own throughout the pandemic.

Delicious food for the whole family

Let’s start with the food. Everyone has their own favourite dish at the Old Marina, but their Famous Puslinch Burger definitely stands out on the menu. The restaurant also offers delicious apps and entrees plus incredible desserts (just look at this photo gallery and try not to drool). Their kids menu is fantastic and there’s always something great on tap. The restaurant also offers a beautiful event space for corporate parties, weddings and other private functions. More than a place to grab a meal, the Old Marina truly is a gathering place for the greater Cambridge community.

Taking care of their own team

Like all independent restaurants in Ontario, the Old Marina Restaurant faced significant challenges starting in March 2020. When the pandemic hit, Joel did everything he could to pivot the business and retain as much staff as possible during restaurant closures. He created produce boxes that were available with contactless pick up and started selling everything from flour and milk to cleaning supplies and toilet paper. In addition to making it easy for community members to access these in-demand items, Joel made everything available to his staff at cost to help them through a challenging time.

Throughout various stages of the pandemic, the Old Marina team kept in touch using a private Facebook group. They stuck together and helped each other out, maintaining their sense of community even when the restaurant was closed. This speaks not only to the quality of the relationships built at the Old Marina, but to the good people who work there.

Creating holiday magic in hard times

Joel and the Old Marina team are all about community, and it’s evident in everything they do. They sponsor no less than a half dozen local sports teams so local kids can play hockey, soccer and other sports. When the restaurant had to shut their doors overnight during the first lockdown, Joel donated all of the perishable food in their kitchen to a local food bank. And, when Covid-19 took away some of the hallmark moments of childhood, like trick-or-treating on Halloween, Joel stepped up to create some magic for local kids.

When Halloween couldn’t be enjoyed in a traditional sense in 2020, Joel and his team came up with a plan. They announced that there would be a drive-thru event for families with cartoon mascots on site. Each child would receive a bag filled with Halloween candy as well as gift certificates to family-friendly local businesses like Guelph Family Martial Arts. Most of the candy was donated by community members who wanted to contribute to this great event. There was so much candy, it took Glennis Cook (Joel’s mom) and her team of five volunteers over six hours to receive, sort and bag it all! Additional volunteers included high school students like Jacob Hespeler and even customers.

As families arrived, they were greeted by characters like Mr. Incredible, the Minions, Ninja Turtles and the dogs from Paw Patrol. All of the costumes were made available at no charge by another great community business, CDJA Services. Owners Craig and Melanie Anson refused any payment, lending out their costumes for free in order to make the event extra special for local kids. It was a fantastic partnership, and over 600 kids ended up coming through the drive-thru! CDJA also worked with the Old Marina to help run theme nights, where families could say hello to a beloved cartoon character while picking up takeout.

Giving back while having fun

Not only was the Halloween event a hit with local kids, it helped feed vulnerable members of the KW and Cambridge communities. Families were asked to bring a couple of canned goods to the drive-thru if they were able and by the end of the night, approximately $4000 worth of food was collected for the local food bank. The drive-thru event took place again in 2021 with over 500 kids coming out to trick-or-treat at the Old Marina. It’s now set to become an annual tradition, and there’s a Christmas version in the works!

We’re pleased to celebrate this amazing local business not only for the great food and wonderful people but for what they mean to the community. If you want to support local, independent restaurants or try a Famous Puslinch Burger the next time you’re in town, follow the Old Marina Restaurant on Facebook and Instagram or check them out in person. Enjoy—and don’t forget to tell them your friends at Morton sent you.