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EXPLORING FOGO: How social enterprises put an outport on the map

Fogo Island Inn is 10 years old this year — here's a look at this unique corner of Newfoundland — the people, places, food and landscapes.

A traditional fishing store, Fogo Island, Newfoundland

The Long Studio, Fogo Island, Newfoundland

Words and Photos


I recently received a tourism missive via email, announcing that The Fogo Island Inn celebrates it's 10th anniversary this year in May.

It took me back to some of the most interesting days I've spent reporting as a travel writer, in this beautifully stark, rugged and welcoming corner of eastern Canada.

Fogo Island's Zita Cobb

I never did get the chance to see the Inn completed, nor have a chance to stay at the exclusive property, but I did visit Fogo Island a couple of times while it was in the early planning and construction phases. The crowning piece of social entrepreneur Zita Cobb's plan to create a sustainable economic future for her community, the inn has become both a bucket list destination and a new way to imagine sustainable tourism.

I was lucky enough to spend some time with Cobb as she toured me around the outport community where she lived until age 16. The hard working entrepreneur then studied business and turned her considerable talents to the high tech industry, where she made the fortune that she eventually brought home to Fogo.

Cobb's investments in innovative projects were designed to keep the community viable, one that suffered greatly after the collapse of the cod fishery in the 1960s.

She first founded the non-profit Shorefast Foundation in 2004 with her two brothers, using $10 million of her own funds and $5 million from the provincial and federal governments. With a charitable and social enterprise arm, Shorefast's initial work centred around the arts, with a series of spectacular, architecturally-unique studios scattered across the island, built to bring visiting artists from around the world.

Squish Studio, Fogo Island

Building on the island's history of co-operative endeavours, Cobb's foundation invested in local projects (including Fogo Island Workshop for artisan-made goods, microloans to small businesses like Growlers Ice Cream, boat building and sustainability-focused Fogo Island Fish), to help bolster the community economy, reduce reliance on the fishing industry, and create new tourism infrastructure.

She then embarked on the business of building the luxe Fogo Island Inn, a place that now attracts A-listers and well-heeled tourists from around the globe.

It's a unique property — also a not-for-profit social enterprise — that reinvests its surpluses into the community (through Shorefast programs and projects) and uses island artisans to create furniture, art and textiles for the inn. Whether traditional quilts and hooked rugs or hand-built chairs, the spare and modern aesthetic of the inn reflects local culture and history at every level.

It's all part of the ongoing effort to preserve the traditional way of life on this remote island and celebrate its strengths, both natural and human capital.

Fogo Island Inn while under construction — a not-for-profit project designed to create a new local economy.

The inn's website puts it like this: "The Fogo Island Inn was a significant investment in the future of Fogo Island’s economy, and cost $41 million (Cdn) to build. 75.4% of the money used to build the Inn was provided by private individuals, including a majority share from Zita Cobb. None of these individuals are seeking a return on their contribution. The rest of the money used to build the Inn came in the form of government grants."

And so, part community builder, part small business incubator, and part social experiment, Shorefast has put this outport community — literally a remote island off a remote island in the north Atlantic — on the international map. The Fogo Island Inn has been featured in top fashion, architectural and travel magazines around the world, the boxy structure standing dramatically over the island's sparse, rocky shore on stilts, like some space-age fishing stage.

Fogo Island Inn rises from the rocky landscape in 2012

Cobb is now the Fogo Island Innkeeper, and her vision continues to support the economic and cultural resilience of the island she calls home. Like the traditional shorefast line that moors a traditional cod trap to the ocean floor, Cobb's Shorefast foundation is giving this island a secure future.

Zita Cobb is the entrepreneur with a vision for the future of Fogo Island


Cobb has been celebrated with several awards for her visonary work on Fogo, including the Order of Canada, which she received in 2016. In 2021, Cobb became the first social entrepreneur inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame, and was named one of the Top 25 Women of Influence+ by the Business Development Bank of Canada in 2022.

Cobb saw the "inherent assets" of Fogo Island in the people, the history and the unique local culture of a remote Newfoundland fishing community.

In her recent keynote address to the 2023 Sorensen Impact Summit Zita Cobb said:

“Asset-based community development is essential to every place. Humans often have a very shallow understanding of what economic development is and what our assets are. That has given rise to a world where people make investments, but they are not development. Development is about uplifting the inherent assets of a place.”

To emphasize the social enterprise, non-profit aspect of all of their Shorefast ventures, they add an "economic nutrition label" to purchases, from hotel stays at the Fogo Island Inn to the artisan furniture pieces from their workshop, including financial information that helps consumers to understand how it sustains local communities.

Though I may not be able to afford a visit to the exclusive inn today, I have many great memories of time spent on Fogo Island (and neighboring Change Island), the dramatic outport communities and the resilient people who live there.

The chance to spend time with Zita Cobb, and learn about her ambitious plans, when the Inn was but a dream, counts among one of my most cherished travel memories.

Here's a look at this unique corner of Newfoundland — the people, places, food and landscapes — via some images from my photo library:

Inside Long Studio, a Shorefast Foundation studio on Fogo Island for visiting artists.


Todd Saunders is the architect behind both the Fogo Island Inn and the four remote studios that make up the Fogo Island Arts residency program. Born in Newfoundland but based in Norway, Saunders is visiting Fogo Island this summer and will take guests at the Fogo Island Inn on architectural walks around the property.

The Tower Studio — black, dramatic and reached by a twisting boardwalk, is but one. More than 100 artists-in-residence from far flung places have already come to Fogo Island to work and interact with the local landscape and people, visually sharing Newfoundland with the world.

A boardwalk leads to the Tower Studio, one of the six Shorefast studios on Fogo Island.

Tower Studio, Fogo Island

Long Studio on Fogo Island, designed for visiting artists, is the largest and most dramatic space.

Squish studio for artists-in-residence stands alone on the shore.


The commercial cod fishery collapsed in Newfoundland due to overfishing in the 1990s and though there's still a moratorium to protect cod stocks, the line caught traditional method of fishing on Fogo Island supplies a few restaurants with limited amount of codfish, along with local crab, shrimp, squid and turbot, via the Shorefast project, Fogo Island Fish,

From Joe Batt's Arm to Tilting and Shoal Bay there are lovely fishing villages to explore on Fogo Island, all with salt box houses and fishing stages along the water where families once split and salted cod on outdoor flakes to dry it. The end of commercial fishing left many Fogo Island fishers without their traditional livelihoods, but locals can still partake in the food fishery for family consumption.

And they will share their time to explain how cod has been salted her for hundreds of years.

A Fogo Island fisherman demonstrates the traditional way to salt and dry local cod fish.

Pot trap cod on the menu in Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island

A lightly pickled codfish appetizer is a modern take on an old-fashioned dish.


Shorefast is also preserving a number of heritage homes and churches around the island, even coverting some into spaces like the Workshop for quilters, small boat builders and furniture makers.

Historic 19th century fishing cottage, Fogo Island

Local quilters and crafters display their wares and Wind and Waves shop in a converted church

The Punt Premises is home to Shorefast’s fleet of punt boats, celebrating Fogo Island's boat

building heritage. The interactive space is a place to see an evolving collection of cultural artifacts including cod traps, knots, fishing gear and items associated with their making and mending.

The small wooden boat or "punt" is the workhorse of the inshore cod fishery and at the premises — a restored mid-1800s saltbox house, fishing stage and stores — a punt will always be under construction to keep the local boat-building skills alive.

These buildings collectively make up a typical outport fishing premises and were occupied by generations of several families in the community of Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island.

Colourful punts and houses in Joe Batt's Arm

Specialty knots are a traditional fisherman's skill.

Traditional woodworking skills are used to create other functional vessels, too.


You can explore Fogo Island and nearby Change Islands via the footpaths and boardwalks that islanders have long used to get around. Many of the communities are isolated — Joe Batt's Arm, Tilting, Seldom Come By are among 11 on Fogo Island — and all are worth visiting, for their tiny museums, artisans and stark but beautiful landscapes, carpeted in sub-arctic plants and wild flowers.

Look for a coastal hiking route, or climb to the top of Brimstone Head (known as one of the Four corners of the Flat Earth) to survey the landscape, at least to the edge!

Brimstone Head towers above Fogo Harbour and is a steep hike to the top.


Food on Fogo is always homemade and local by necessity, derived from the land and the sea.

Freshly baked bread, steamed puddings and pancakes (or toutons), served with locally foraged partridge berries, bakeapple (cloudberries) and crowberries, are often on the morning menu in Newfoundland. And beyond fish, there's moose and caribou.

Every jam under the rainbow on Fogo Island including bakeapple (foreground), partridge berry and rhubarb

Shorefast has recently launched its own Foodways Program designed to build on their work connecting to island individuals and traditions through food.

In the Fogo Island Inn kitchens, they are using local ingredients in contemporary ways, and looking at how to encourage local entrepreneurs to grown more diverse foods on the island. While cabbage has long been a gardeners' staple now they are growing things like fennel for chefs. Shorefast is also working with the local co-operative to investigate the potential of seaweed farming, and working with foragers to learn more about the wild berries and mushrooms found in this sub-arctic landscape.

And don't forget the humble cauliflower — it was the most exotic vegetable Zita Cobb encountered when she first left Fogo Island and now it's this vegetable, with it's strong base and fractal florets, that she uses to symbolize her views on how to sustain all of the small and large communities on the planet.

I enjoyed my time eating in small town cafes (one then supported by Cobb's micro-loan program) and staying with Beulah Oake at her much less elaborate but comfortable Seven Oakes Inn on nearby Change Island.

Beulah Oakes makes bread and beautiful breakfasts for guest at Seven Oakes Inn

Beulah's home-cooked breakfasts and breads offer the pure down home Newfoundland experience, while the exclusive Fogo Island Inn has a team of chefs and cooks, turning out a more refined take on island ingredients for visitors. As a food writer, I hope to someday meet that culinary team (now led by Executive Chef Tim Charles and Sous-Chef Sophie Hall) to see how they interpret the local vernacular.

And I'll get to Bangbelly Bistro, too.

But meanwhile, there are plenty of unique and delicious ingredients and flavours that will forever remind me of my travels around Fogo Island and Newfoundland!

Bakeapple (cloudberry) tarts



Steamed pudding — or duff — studded with wild berries or raisins are a long time Newfoundland tradition. Make one large pudding, in a ceramic pudding mold, or individual puddings in ramekins. Butterscotch sauce and whipped cream adds a finishing touch.

½ cup molasses

½ cup butter

1 egg

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups flour

½ tsp baking soda

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon, optional

½ cup milk

1 ½ cups blueberries or raisins

Prepare a 7-8-cup pudding bowl/mold for streaming by greasing it well and lightly dusting with flour. Use a metal bowl with a lid or a heat-proof ceramic or glass bowl (with a rim) This recipe may also be used for 8-10 individual puddings.

For the batter, cream the molasses and butter well, beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Combine the sifted flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon, then fold the dry ingredients, alternately with the milk, into the creamed mixture.

Stir in the berries or raisins. Spoon the batter into the prepared pudding mold. Snap on the lid or cover with parchment paper and foil, with a narrow fold in each to allow the pudding to expand while steaming. Tie with string, below the rimmed edge of the pudding bowl to seal.

Place a trivet into a large deep pot, large enough to easily hold the pudding mold, then lower the mold into the pot. You can make a handle out of string or foil to help you place the mold into the pot (and remove it later).

Add about 4 inches of hot water to the pot (it should come up the sides of the mold). Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover and steam the pudding for 2 hours, making sure there's always enough water in the pot (at least 3-4 inches).

Test the pudding with a skewer to insure it's cooked in the middle. Let rest in the steamer for 15 minutes, then turn out and serve warm with sauce. Serves 8-10.

Butterscotch Sauce:

1/2 cup salted butter

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (light or demererra)

1 cup whipping cream

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

pinch of sea salt

In a saucepan, melt butter with sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until it's boiling then add the cream, vanilla and salt. Simmer for 5-7 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool thoroughly. Reheat to serve over pudding. This sauce keeps in the refrigerator for a week or two. Makes 2 cups.

©Cinda Chavich

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