By Carina Livoti
It was a sad end to the summer of 2013 when longtime Huntington staple Canterbury Ales closed its doors, but in the time since former pub owner Billy Hoest has planted new seeds—literally.
After 29 years of running Canterbury’s, Hoest is now working at Main Street Nursery in Huntington. While this may come as a surprise to some, for Hoest, working at the nursery meant going back to his roots.
“The neat little thing is that I worked there 41 years ago; it was my first real job,” Hoest explained.
He said he did not begin his time at Canterbury Ales with designs of becoming a restaurateur; rather he started working at the bar as a summer job while he earned a bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture.
“I was doing the hanging baskets and the flower boxes before I owned the place,” he said.
Hoest was on a waitlist for a forest pathology graduate program in Colorado with plans to work for the Forestry Department or a lumber company when a manager at Canterbury’s approached him about opening up a bar, he said.
After a joke with the then owner of Canterbury Ales about buying the place and a $50,000 loan from his mother, Connie Hoest, Billy became the owner of the restaurant and thus ended his formal pursuit of horticulture for almost three decades.
The bar closed due to tax-related financial issues in August 2013. Hoest said he had been confident that he would be able to fight allegations of debt to the state. When he could not, he admitted that he was in a dark place.
“I never thought I would lose [Canterbury’s]. It’s hard to reenter the [restaurant] industry at 56. Just on a whim I thought, ‘What else do I know how to do?’” he said.
That was when he went back to his roots at Main Street Nursery. Hoest had maintained a relationship with them while he owned Canterbury’s; it was where he bought flowers for his staff.
“I didn’t know what I was applying for,” he said. “I just went up and one of the girls there said, ‘Let me see what I can do.’”
Hoest now holds a management position overseeing crews on small landscapes and plantscapes, but said he started out doing seasonal work selling Christmas trees about a year and a half ago.
“They were kind of feeling me out and I was feeling them out; I realized pretty quickly that I could enjoy myself working there,” he said.
Since then, Hoest has taken comfort in Main Street Nursery, which he said has a very similar management philosophy to his own.
Though he sees many of the same people he saw at Canterbury’s through his work at the nursery, he confessed that he still has some difficulty hanging around town.
“It’s sort of flattering that I’m always recognized, but there’s a feeling of shame, or I don’t know what it is, that I left the town flat,” he said.
After all of the heartache that came with closing the place he had planned on keeping for a lifetime, Hoest’s outlook is positive.
“As much as I reflect on what happened to 36 years of sweat, there’s something comfortable about coming full circle—landing with the plants,” he said.