Jerry Byrne is 'in the presence of awe'

Well-known businessman has found paradise in Trinity Bay; has big plans for area

Terry Roberts
Published on August 8, 2013

It's mid-morning in Whiteway and the waters of Trinity Bay are mirror flat, with the famous Shag Rock rising from the nearby water like the back of some ancient dinosaur.

A small boat powered by an outboard motor breaks the silence as it slices through the calm water, making its way from the local wharf to the fishing grounds.

Jerry Byrne, a slim, spirited man dressed in a black t-shirt, jeans and deck shoes, takes it all in from the back deck of the newly opened Shag It Café.

With his smartphone chirping regularly on the table, a coffee in his hand, and "Murphy" the golden retriever sitting at his side, Byrne appears relaxed and at home.

He speaks about fellow business owners in the area like he's known them for years, raves about the cabin parties he's attended, and the feeds of moose and rabbit he's enjoyed over the past year.

He says the atmosphere in this place reminds him of his years growing up in Torbay, half-a-century ago, in a family of 14 children.

"I have fallen in love with this place," he says of the Trinity South area.

During the summer of 2011, after an unsuccessful bid to become the Conservative MP for the federal riding of St. John's East, Byrne and Laurelyn Berry, his wife and business partner, spent a weekend at a high-end cottage in Heart's Delight-Islington.

It was a pivotal moment in their lives.

They agreed their future together could be made here by helping develop what many say is the area's incredible tourism potential.

They spoke to the owner of the cottages about buying the business, and before long Jerry and Laurelyn were sitting in this very spot, watching the sunset just behind Shag Rock.

"It was a moment where you know you are somewhere special," he recalls. "It became an absolute mission."

It was the perfect business model, combining Jerry's energy, business savvy and worldwide contacts and Laurelyn's expertise in marketing and communications.

They bought the business - Ocean Delight Cottages - and decided to leave the hustle and bustle of St. John's for the tranquility, scenic beauty and charm of Whiteway.

"It was like a notch up in your life," Jerry says.

"In St. John's you have to go to find your community, with your engineering bunch or your business groups. But here your community is the community," he adds.

Big plans

It was a bold move. Jerry's background is in steel and construction, having served as president and CEO of D. F. Barnes, a highly successful metal fabrication company specializing in the offshore oil industry.

Laurelyn is from Toronto, the country's largest city, where concrete and cars are part of the social fabric. She has long worked in the marketing and communications business, and owned her own firm.

They now live in a community of just under 300 (2011 Census), roughly 80 minutes by car from the capital city, but they have never looked back. In fact, their commitment to the area has deepened significantly since originally purchasing Ocean Delight Cottages.

Earlier this year, they bought a world-class inn and spa in nearby Green's Harbour (The Doctor's House) and officially opened Shag It Café just last month.

To hear Jerry tell it, they have some very ambitious plans for their business venture, and if it all comes to fruition, it could mean some big changes for the Trinity South region.

Without breaking stride, Jerry pledges that within five years, The Doctor's House will become the No. 1 wedding destination in Canada. That's correct. The nation.

He says it will also become a sought after destination for mini-conventions and corporate retreats.

"We are going to turn The Doctor's House into something truly special in this area," he says.

There are also plans to expand Ocean Delight Cottages.

He also speaks about establishing a maple syrup festival next spring on the grounds of the inn and spa, investing in wind energy technology to power their businesses and vehicles within three years, and pursuing several other business ventures that he's not willing to talk about at the moment.

"We've really just gotten started," Jerry notes. "Opportunities are showing themselves every day."

Job creation

He describes what he calls "significant construction plans for growth and expansion," and this will translate into much-needed job creation for the area.

Indeed, the operation has already grown from three employees in 2012 to 23 on staff this year.

"We'll have even more next year," he says.

So should other businesses in the region be weary? Not at all, says Jerry. He calls other business owners in the area "associates," and says they routinely direct customers and business to one another.

"It's a co-operative," he says.

It's all part of a plan to turn the Trinity South region into a must-see tourism destination in the province. The term they use is "mecca-nizing" the Baccalieu Trail.

"We came out here and fell in love with the place, and love brings love because we feel that coming back to us from the people," Jerry says.

Ending retirement

This ambitious foray into the tourism industry was never really part of Jerry's grand plan in life.

Not long ago, he was working long hours, getting little sleep, and travelling throughout the world in search of business, dressed in $1,500 business suits.

In addition to being the president and CEO of a large company with 450 employees and yearly business revenues in excess of $90 million, he also served on nine high profile boards.

But his outlook changed after his brother, former provincial politician Jack Byrne, died in 2008.

"When Jack died I asked myself, 'What am I doing? It's time for me to get this under control.'"

He sold his shares in the company and travelled the world for a couple of years.

Then he ran for political office and though unsuccessful, he was re-energized by the experience, noting, "My knuckles are still swollen from the experience."

Now he lives in Whiteway, living in what they call "the presence of awe," and using every tool at their disposal to sell this experience to the province, the nation, and the world.

After just one year in business, you might say it's working.

In March, Ocean Delight Cottages received the top honour at the Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador tourism excellence awards gala in St. John's - accommodator of the year.

They've also been recognized for their online presence, including garnering the No. 3 spot on for e-tourism rankings.

As for Jerry, he's learned how to fillet codfish, and "dreads going to St. John's."

You might say coming out of retirement appears to be working for him.

"I realized I still got 40 years left, and I keep having epiphany after epiphany. So here I am. Serendipity brought me out here. Love keeps me here."

About Jerry Byrne

• Hometown — Torbay, but has changed residences more than 32 times, living in almost every Canadian province and in the United States;

• Resides — Whiteway

• Family — son of the late Mike and Emily Byrne, No. 10 of 14 children. Brother of the late Jack Byrne, a one-time prominent provincial politician who passed away in 2008 at the age of 57. Father of three adult daughters, Adrienne (33), Emily (29) and Kathryn (25). Wife and business partner is Laurelyn Berry.

• Education — graduate of Gonzaga high school, class of '68. Diploma in electronics, and degree in electrical engineering from Memorial University (1977).

• Age — turned 63 on May 25. Plans to live to be 102. "I've got it all figured out. It's going to happen."

• Occupation — businessman. Retired president and CEO of D. F. Barnes.