The Voy finds its footing

·3 min read

SCHREIBER, Ont., — It wasn’t the best of times to be resurrecting a business, even if it was one of the more familiar landmarks on the Lake Superior Circle Tour for tourists.

But when Takreem Mazhar travelled half-way around the world to oversee the renaissance of Schreiber’s former Voyageur motel and restaurant in the beginning of 2019, she couldn’t have foreseen the havoc to be wrecked upon small businesses by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a real roller-coaster,” Mazhar, who is originally from the bustling United Arab Emirates city of Dubai, said Tuesday.

More than two years later, Mazhar feels the Highway 17 business known affectionately, and now formally, as The Voy, has finally found its footing following a hard struggle.

During the worst of the pandemic, “it was just so hard to make decisions about things,” she recalled.

Though the business has about a dozen employees with plans to hire more, there were periods when COVID-19 resulted in severe staffing shortages.

“There were days when it was just me cleaning the (motel’s) rooms,” said Mazhar, who has an MBA degree from Boston’s Babson College. “I filled a lot of roles. But everything has settled down now.”

Unlike Schreiber, which is nestled on Lake Superior and a short drive from a myriad of inland lakes, Dubai is located on the edge of a desert. Mazhar likens her home city of 2.3 million people to “Las Vegas on steroids.”

She said her family had been looking to invest in Canada for some time before hearing through business contacts about The Voy, which had been vacant for three years.

Mazhar declined to disclose how much has been invested in the property, but allows “it was a lot.”

“It needed a lot of loving care,” she said with a chuckle.

The motel offers 20 rooms, and there are plans to reopen about a dozen more, Mazhar said. She hopes the adjacent building that currently houses a gift shop and convenience store will also offer a cafe by early next year.

Mazhar speaks perfect English, which is the main language in Dubai. Still, she wondered how locals in Schreiber would receive an outsider as one of their newest entrepreneurs.

She needn’t have worried.

Affection for The Voy was akin to how Thunder Bay regards The Hoito. Mazhar said many locals “had their own personal story” about The Voy and wanted to see it succeed.

Schreiber Township chief administrator Nathan Dias said it’s gratifying to have the town’s “major hub” back up and running.

“A lot of credit goes to Takreem,” said Dias. “She really did her homework; she met with us many times. It was nice to see it renovated, and renovated very well.”

Said Mazhar. “Everyone has been very friendly, and eager to offer their advice,” she said. “That would not have happened in a big city. The smartest thing I did was to listen.”

Carl Clutchey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal

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