Kim Magistro can be described as a Jack of all trades. From performing arts to culinary excellence, Kim takes on every new challenge with perseverance. With the ability to create connections wherever she goes, Kim took every opportunity to expand her career paths. But when all paths led to the beautiful mountain range of the Cape Breton Highlands, Kim left the big city life she knew behind to create a new beginning in rural Nova Scotia.
Kim Magistro was born and raised in New York City, New York. Her love of food came naturally from her Italian and Irish background. Kim says she always had a connection to good food, so she’s grateful to have grown up with New York’s diverse food culture. But she wasn’t always working with food. Her journey to entrepreneurship started in a corporate office. She was working in advertising and writing magazine columns. Kim had a great job, but she realized her passion for food needed to be fed. So, she began working in a restaurant. It took no time at all for her to become the restaurant’s manager and secure her place in the hospitality industry in Manhattan, New York. “I fell in love with the hospitality industry” she said. “I really enjoyed the work. It opened up a lot of doors for me.”
Being a restaurant manager allowed Kim to create new connections and rekindle old ones. She was reunited with her friend’s father who came into the restaurant after performing next door at Beacon Theater. He was a famous magician, and she remembers watching him on television when she was a teenager. When he offered her a job in the arts, Kim was not going to let the opportunity slip by. She became the magician’s assistant part-time while managing the restaurant full-time. A short six months after being trained, the magician got hired to do a children’s show with the symphony orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. “So, six months after I started working for him, I was performing at Lincoln Center. It was unbelievable. It was a great period in my life” she explained. While performing magic shows in the theater, Kim learned about puppets. In the beginning, she did puppetry part-time.
On her path to entrepreneurship, Kim completed a culinary degree at The Art Institute of New York City. The restaurant she managed got sold and she struggled to find a full-time position in a new restaurant of similar quality. She knew the industry was changing rapidly, especially with large corporations setting up more and more food franchises. Instead of jumping back into the restaurant setting, she took time to go back to school. Kim took a program to become a super manager, which would later be extremely helpful. “That training was invaluable” she said.
Kim described living on ground zero during 9/11. The World Trade Center was approximately ten blocks from where she was living at the time. After the tragic event, her life view changed. “It made me look beyond where I was, to where I needed to be,” she said. The air quality changed with dust clouds including harmful particles after the collapse of the Twin Towers. She said she loved living in Manhattan, but a few months after 9/11 she felt she could no longer stay there. Not only because of the trauma of that day but because of the living conditions at ground zero continued to have lingering issues as time passed.
After 9/11 Kim needed a new journey. She started travelling and landed in Geneva, Switzerland for nine months. This trip allowed her to have an adventure while soaking up every learning opportunity she could find. Inspiration and knowledge from living in Switzerland is something Kim applied throughout her business journey. After returning to the United States, she moved to upstate New York and bought a puppet theatre. As owner and site performer of Fairy Tale Castle Puppet Theatre, Kim found a new passion.
Reestablishing a new rural lifestyle, Kim was running her puppetry business when her and her business partner went on a vacation to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. “We stopped at Castle Rock Country Inn to get our bearings and see how far we were. We loved the area so much we decided we would get a place here together” she said. When they came back a year later, Castle Rock Country Inn was for sale. “The overwhelming natural beauty of the region was what sold me on the opportunity. That’s how we came to be here.” Kim and her business partner bought Castle Rock Country Inn and moved to Ingonish Beach in 2007.
When she moved to Ingonish Beach, it was hard for her to find a skilled seasonal chef to work due to the remote location, so she took on the role herself. Kim put her management training into use and dove right into owning and operating the restaurant at the Inn. Luckily, when Kim opened the restaurant, she had the help of excellent consultants. Her first consultant was a French chef who gave her the Haute Couture training that is the foundation of her menu. She also worked alongside a chef from the Culinary Institute of America who was working with high end Asian catering in New York. “That’s where the Asian flair came from. I think it was a really good fit for the high-quality items I’m able to obtain” Kim revealed. She is very proud to have worked alongside these experts to put her restaurant on a path to success right from the start.
Starting out at Castle Rock Country Inn, Kim said her main challenge was the cultural differences. “The greatest challenge was adapting to running a business in a remote location” she explained. Coming into the rural community as a business owner, Kim figured it may take time for the local people to accept her. But she was fortunate to have a Nova Scotia Power hydro plant just down the road whose employees were her first customers. They set her in the right direction and the rest followed. “The people have been brilliant, really. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the things I’ve accomplished without the wonderful people that I’ve encountered here.”
Kim brought her culinary experience to Nova Scotia and has not been disappointed by the food options. “The products here are as good or better than any products you can get elsewhere, especially for Haute cuisine.” She goes on to say Nova Scotian lobster is premium quality and there’s no comparison to what she has seen elsewhere. “You won’t find better” she added. While Kim praises the lobster, wine, organic produce, and quality of meats, she remarks on the overall exceptional agriculture Nova Scotia has to offer. “Nova Scotia is a hidden jewel” she says. She wants her customers to know where their food comes from, so she tries to offer Nova Scotian meats and seafood on her menu whenever she can. She offers a unique variation of Asian recipes and Cape Breton classics.
Kim describes Castle Rock Country Inn as casual with a European flair and wonderful staff. She used inspiration from her trip to Switzerland for the rooms and offers a European breakfast style. “It’s a casual boutique hotel with casual fine dining. The scenery takes over the whole place” she said. Guests at the Inn can expect an intimate setting because they only rent out thirteen rooms. “It’s easy to get into conversation with our other guests” Kim explained. “It’s very comfortable. It’s a very simple and casual experience.” Her expectation for the restaurant is good quality food along with engagement between staff and guests for an overall good experience.
Despite having obstacles thrown her way, Kim said, “I was always driven by the good things that kept it going.” Regardless of its casual setting, Castle Rock Country Inn has recently received an award of excellence for being in the top 20% of Expedia reviews worldwide. Along with being nationally recognized for the restaurant’s recipes and accomplishments, it has a 4-star Canada Select rating. After many years of hardships, Kim never gave up on her business. “We have some amazing staff. It’s been a slow process of endurance.” She goes on to say, “Without the support of the people I wouldn’t have been able to move forward.”
So, if you’re looking to take your own journey to Cape Breton, be sure to stop at Castle Rock Country Inn just like Kim did all those years ago. Opened all year round, you will experience casual fine dining at it’s best with beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Breton Highlands. It’s a place of comfort and meaningful connections. And who knows, your visit may just be the start to your next big adventure.
by Gabrielle Gamblin