Kathy and Sheldon Morse chat with Angela Coron outside the new Morse’s food trailer. (JERRY KLEPNER PHOTO)
Kathy and Sheldon Morse, who ran the popular Morse’s Cribstone Grill on Bailey Island for 11 seasons before closing it last August, are back in business. This time they’ve downsized to a food truck.
Their new venture is simply called Morse’s. They share a parking lot with newly named Henry Allen’s Seafood at 119 Lookout Point Road, off Harpswell Neck Road. Allen’s, a circa-1960 lobster pound, has new management and is undergoing a renovation.
Local resident Chris Hole is upgrading the wharf and buildings. Hole stressed that his goal is to preserve Harpswell’s commercial fishing culture. He added “Henry” to the Allen name in honor of one of the original owners.
Morse’s food truck is actually an 18-foot trailer outfitted with a working kitchen. A condensed version of the Cribstone Grill’s menu, including favorites like Kathy’s special salad dressing, her blueberry pie and seafood tacos, will be offered. Morse’s plans to be open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Daughter Ashley Morse Bailey and Jade Hildreth will be at the grill and fryer. Henry Allen’s Seafood will be open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m to 5 p.m., when customers can buy lobsters, crab and clams fresh off the boat.
Zac Leeman and his wife, Khristine, last month opened their own restaurant at the former Cribstone Grill, renaming it Sundrenched. Both Sheldon and Zac are Harpswell natives. Zac worked for the Morses last year.
Why did the Morses switch from a restaurant to a food truck?
“We’re in our 60s now; we’re getting tired,” said Sheldon Morse, who has run several restaurants in Harpswell over the years. Staffing at the restaurant was always a problem, he said. The pandemic didn’t help the bottom line, and they worked long hours. Customers were disappointed when the restaurant closed, he said, “but most people know how much time you put in there. It wears you out.”
Sheldon Morse traces his Harpswell roots back five generations. Kathy Morse is from Phippsburg. Sheldon said the couple started out with a lobstering and groundfishing business. Back then, they were getting $2.50 or $3 a pound for lobster when restaurants were selling it cooked for $20.
They hadn’t planned on being in the restaurant business, said Sheldon, but figured there was more money selling and serving what they caught instead of just fishing for it. Over the years they joined the seafood restaurant or takeout scene at numerous local spots, including a food truck at the wharf by the couple’s Allen Point Road home, Holbrook’s Grill at Cundy’s Harbor, and the former Estes Lobster House in South Harpswell.
Chris Hole on the wharf at Henry Allen’s Seafood. Hole is overseeing a renovation of the property and wants to ensure it remains working waterfront. (JERRY KLEPNER PHOTO)
“We miss the people, the social part” of managing the Cribstone restaurant, said Sheldon.
The restaurant “is still a part of us,” noted Kathy, “but we wanted to step back and have a little less work.”
And they have memories. Once, the great Boston Bruins hockey player Bobby Orr ate at the Cribstone. “I was quite honored to meet him,” said Sheldon. As youngsters, Sheldon and his friends had skated on the pond by his parents’ house on Allen Point. Orr had many fights on the ice and the local kids asked at each game, “Who’s going to be Bobby Orr?”
“We had some pretty rough games,” Sheldon recalled.
A hop, skip and jump across the tarmac is the lobster pound and wharf, and with it a long history. Hole said his uncle, Scott Roberts, was one of the wharf’s original owners. Roberts, who lives on Bailey Island, is the stepson of Henry Allen. The two men, along with Dain Allen, ran the business for years, as did Dain Allen’s stepson, Albert Rose.
Hole said he was 5 years old when his uncle started taking him fishing at Lookout Point. He wants visitors who have never been to the Maine coast to experience the local culture. He will have a tank so kids can touch local sea critters. “A 5-year-old comes down here and it’s magic,” he said.
The wharf “is authentic and I want to save our culture,” said Hole. “There’s a lot of history here and I don’t want to see it gone.” Hole emphasized how critical it is to preserve the wharf and waterfront for the local fishermen. “Everybody knows the alternative — it gets bought and we lose the access to fishing.”
At the time of a 2005 study by The Island Institute, only about 20 miles of Maine’s 5,300-mile coastline were working waterfront. Of the remaining working waterfront, about two-thirds was “privately owned and vulnerable to conversion to other, incompatible uses.”
“This is a concern for communities, fishermen and conservation groups,” according to the study. “A study by the State Planning Office suggests that the majority of Maine’s coastline will be classified as suburban/urban by 2050.”
That is something Hole and Morse are working to prevent.
Connie Sage Conner is a retired editor of The Virginian-Pilot. She lives in Harpswell and serves on the Harpswell News Board of Directors.