In 2020, Avram Spatz was an associate at a Toronto-based boutique litigation firm when he felt the entrepreneurial itch. Business runs in the family: his older brother, Josh, co-owns Toronto’s North of Brooklyn Pizzeria, and his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, founded the real estate development firm Southwest Properties. While working remotely during the pandemic, he got restless at home and decided to embark on a more creative and physical project. In January of 2021, he quit his high-pressure job and contemplated his next move. A lifelong lover of food and design, he spent his spare time thrifting mid-century modern pieces and restoring teak furniture for his downtown loft.
In October of 2021, he flew home to Halifax for Thanksgiving and stopped in at the Evangeline, a five-acre property in the Annapolis Valley. He used to stay at the inn, which opened in the early 1950s, for regional swim meets and summer holidays with his family. Over lunch, he considered the property’s prime location: it’s secluded in the historic Grand-Pré but minutes from Wolfville’s downtown core. Suddenly, his next project was clear.
He worked up the courage to ask the owner if she considered letting go of the property. To his surprise, she was preparing to sell. “That put it into turbo drive,” he says. He purchased the 23-room property two months later. To oversee the renovation, he took a job with his grandfather’s firm, which allowed him to move to Nova Scotia for a year and split his time between living at the inn and at his father’s home in Halifax.
Spatz’s wanted the property up and running by July of 2022, so he went to work immediately. He redesigned the inn’s guest rooms with an eye toward Scandinavian minimalism. He added cloud beds and oak field stools. The rooms also have second-hand coffee table books about the artists and architects that informed his design sensibilities, from Leonardo da Vinci to Mies van der Rohe, mostly sourced from local bookstores like the Odd Book, a shop roughly five minutes from the inn. “There was a desire to provide something a bit fresher,” says Spatz. “Clean, simple, minimalist.”
At the same time, he wanted to ensure that his upgrades didn’t take away from the Evangeline’s historical character. When he restored the property’s five-bedroom Borden House (pictured above), former prime minister Sir Robert Borden’s childhood residence, he preserved important historical features like the original wood floors, an Edwardian wardrobe with hand-carved handles and a library filled with the Borden children’s elementary school notebooks that guests can read.
One of his most important projects was the renovation of Stirling’s, the inn’s café, which he has since renamed Longfellow. To restore the restaurant, Spatz polished the café’s iconic checkerboard floors, hired a local upholsterer to refresh the booths and worked with Montreal-based architect David Dworkin, who designed a new outdoor patio and communal kitchen area. East Coast chef Ray Bear revamped some of the restaurant’s menu to highlight local seasonal ingredients, adding lobster spaghetti and fish and chips. The one dish left untouched: the café’s homemade pie, which has been passed down for generations. (Spatz used to have a consolation slice every time he lost a swim meet.) Flavours include coconut cream, lemon meringue and whatever local fruits are in season.
In May of 2022, Spatz opened Longfellow five weeks before the rest of the property. “It was a very special day,” he says. “A lot of people who had connections to the place were really excited by the photos on the wall of the property from the ’60s and ’70s, and the continuity of the menu.” A year later, the Evangeline is flourishing. For the first time in its history, the property is open year round, and guests can enjoy amenities like a swimming pool, fire pit and infrared sauna. Recently, Spatz made another addition to the grounds: the Owner’s House, a five-bedroom, three-bathroom building with a breakfast bar, colourful rooms and a private terrace to accommodate larger groups.
Spatz feels settled in his new role as an innkeeper. “When I worked as a lawyer, I always wanted to interact more directly with people and the community,” he says. “The Evangeline is a fun place to be, and it’s growing. Just being part of that fabric is special.”