Fishnet Cafe owner Joan Ouellette in the kitchen of her restaurant on Bailey Island, next to the post office. She expects to open at the end of May. (JERRY KLEPNER PHOTO)
After a 12-year hiatus — and after saying “I was never going to do this again” — Joan Ouellette is bringing back her popular Fishnet Cafe. Only this time, the restaurant is moving from the Orr’s Island side of the Cribstone Bridge to Bailey Island, next door to the post office.
Her 20-some early morning “regulars” missed Ouellette and the camaraderie of their fellow islanders, so they kept bugging her to reopen somewhere on the islands.
“The Harpswell community came to me five times and each time I said no,” Ouellette said with a chuckle. “At 68, I’m too old and I was going to retire.” Now, she plans to reopen the Fishnet at the end of May.
The old Fishnet was in the Engel & Volkers Casco Bay realty offices on Orr’s. Ouellette said her part of their building was so small she cooked on two little grills and talked with customers while she cooked. The new Fishnet is in a much larger space attached to the Roxanne York Real Estate building at 2118 Harpswell Islands Road, Bailey Island.
On a recent spring day, Ouellette, who’s always smiling, happily pointed out where tables, chairs and the bar will be. The space was being remodeled by David Haggerty, whose wife, Laurie, now owns Roxanne York Real Estate. Ouellette is especially proud of the café’s spaciousness and its gleaming stainless steel kitchen. Earlier restaurants in the same building were Jack Baker’s Last Stand and Giant Stairs Seafood Grille.
Fishnet Cafe will be open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, every day except Wednesday. Ouellette will reopen for dinner from 5-9 p.m. Saturday-Tuesday. Favorites will be back, including grilled blueberry muffins. Twenty guests, who will order at a counter, can be seated inside, and another 20 on the deck. Helping her will be her son, T.J. Ouellette, who is also a chef.
Ouellette is no stranger to cooking, or Harpswell. Her Stilphen family roots go back to the 1800s. “I grew up learning to cook from my grandmother and aunts,” said Ouellette, who lives on Orr’s Island’s Bangs Shore Road.
The menu will be “very generic,” she continued, including lobster or crabmeat rolls, lobster stew and clam chowder. “We want people who visit Maine to have what they’re looking forward to eating in Maine,” she said.
“We’re thrilled and can’t wait for Fishnet to open,” said Roxanne York. She and her husband, Ron, ate at the earlier cafe a lot. “It was so much fun hanging out there and meeting people. It was the regulars and the people who summered here.”
Jason Hillman was another Fishnet follower. He also lives on Bangs Shore and is Ouellette’s “distant, distant, distant cousin.” He frequently got to the original Fishnet at 5 a.m. and started making coffee before Ouellette came to work. He didn’t have a key to open the door. “I’d break in with a credit card,” he said with a laugh.
Hillman, a lobsterman who also owns a marine surveying business, said he won’t be breaking into the new restaurant. “I’ll probably be washing dishes at some point.”
Connie Sage Conner is a retired editor of The Virginian-Pilot. She lives in Harpswell and serves on the Harpswell News Board of Directors.