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It's a long way from Galway, Ireland, to Charlottetown, PEI, but when you're a confident and perhaps somewhat cocky 20-year-old setting out to see the world, it's not very daunting. For Liam Dolan, in fact, it was a piece of cake.

Brought up with nine siblings on his parents' modest farm, Liam was used to hard work; combine that with a passion for cooking and you've got the recipe for an impressive culinary career.

Following a short stint at Dublin's Jury Hotel and armed with his chef's papers, Liam was eager to test his skills beyond the Irish Sea. His brother Tony was already working as chef at the Charlottetown Hotel, so the little island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence was a good place to stop en route to Australia.

Once there, however, circumstances changed his course. Tony had an accident that prevented him from working for a long period of time, and Liam became the hotel's chef. As fate would have it, he fell in love not only with the Island's beautiful scenery, sandy beaches, quaint architecture and friendly people, but also with Kim MacLeod, the Charlottetown girl who would become his business partner and later, his wife. 

His feet were now firmly planted in the Island's red soil and, after gaining experience in food and beverage management along the way, Liam set out to fulfill the dream he'd had since childhood: he would have his own restaurant. He didn't take long to recognize the need for a top-notch seafood restaurant in Charlottetown, and chose an abandoned Sydney Street location, requiring long hours of renovation. The hard work paid off: in 1983 The Claddagh Room was opened-and after 25 years it's the city's longest-operating independent restaurant, as well as one of its best-known restaurants.

A year after the opening, Liam and Kim were married and a year after that, they became the proud parents of twins, Marc and Sinead. They grew to take their places in the family business that, over the years, expanded to include three restaurants.

Ambition knows no limits and while The Claddagh Room continued to grow in popularity, the Irish host wanted more. In 1985 Liam opened a second restaurant, The Olde Dublin Pub, upstairs from The Claddagh Room.  "It's become a place of foot stomping, hand clapping and meeting new and old friends," says Kim.

In 1994 Liam also became a partner of Peakes Quay on the Waterfront. The 450-seat restaurant and bar is open during tourist season, from May to October, and is known to have fun on the menu.

Although business is his passion, Liam Dolan has another side. With his cell phone always on his hip, he's willing to take on almost anything that benefits his adopted home. He is determined to buy local seafood and home-grown products, as passionate as if he were the producer himself. He's a director of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, the PEI Chefs Association and actively promotes and advances the tourism industry in every possible way. Probably his greatest contribution came in 1996, with the creation of the annual International Shellfish Festival. "It's my way of thanking the Island people for the support they have given me over the past 25 years," he says.

Nothing is static for Liam; he's in constant motion. When his restaurants begin to look tired, he shuts them down and renovates, expands or reinvents them. He recently changed The Claddagh Room from white tablecloth dining and soft music into a bolder, more casual oyster bar. Along with a long list of local seafoods, the menu offers Island beef, pork and chicken. But here is where the oyster reigns, not only in its wide selection of local varieties but with several come-from-away types as well. Even the new name is a cultured pearl: The Claddagh Oyster House.

Charlottetown. Where the new and the old meet. And wherever people gather there, you'll find Liam Dolan extending his warm and genuine welcome to anybody within his reach.

And yes, he's free with his hugs.

Enjoy 3 of Liam's recipes by following the links below:

Island Mussels with Wild Mushrooms and Cream
Oysters Rockefeller
Galway Bay Delight

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