The new tenant of Holbrook’s General Store hopes to reopen the business soon. (Kelli Park photo)
Two Cundy’s Harbor staples, Holbrook’s General Store and Holbrook’s Lobster Wharf and Grille, will reopen under new management in 2023.
Alison Hawkes, who has run the restaurant for the last three seasons and the store year-round since September 2020, will not return this year. The restaurant closed for the season in late August and the store closed at the end of the year.
Devon Gogan, of Cundy’s Harbor, will take over both businesses. Gogan has a background as a chef and experience in restaurant management.
Gogan’s resume includes stints as executive chef of two restaurants in western Maine — Trail’s End Tavern, of Newry, and the River Valley Grill, of Rumford. Most recently, she was kitchen manager for the Conway Scenic Railroad, across the border in New Hampshire.
The Holbrook Community Foundation owns the restaurant and store on the shore of Cundy’s Harbor, as well as an apartment building and a commercial wharf on the property.
The property has a long history as a center of commerce and daily life in the village. The first wharf on the property was built in the 1830s. The store opened in 1898 and was once home to a post office.
The previous proprietor of the restaurant and store, Alison Hawkes, and her husband, Gary Hawkes, own Hawkes’ Lobster, a wharf and retail shop next door to the foundation property. They bought the business from her husband’s family in early 2020.
Later that year, two weeks before Holbrook’s Lobster Wharf and Grille was due to open for the season, a prior tenant skipped out on the lease. “That left us in a real bind,” said Gregory Barmore, chair of the Holbrook Community Foundation’s Tenants Committee.
The foundation approached Alison Hawkes to run the restaurant. “Alison stepped into the breach during a crisis,” Barmore said.
The foundation ran Holbrook’s General Store for the summer, then asked Hawkes to take it over after the restaurant’s season. “2020 was a busy year,” Hawkes said.
She expanded the offerings at the store, from beer and ice cream to fresh muffins and ready-to-eat meals.
The foundation installed air conditioning and heating systems in the restaurant and store, insulated both buildings, and upgraded the plumbing at the store.
The improvements allowed Hawkes to become the first tenant to operate the store year-round since the foundation acquired the property in 2006. She felt that the businesses played a role in “bringing the town together.”
“I had a really good staff,” she said, and she enjoyed her relationships with vendors and cooperation with other restaurants in town.
Harpswell businesses support each other, she said. For example, if one restaurant runs out of french fries, it can pick some up from another, then pay it forward later.
“People loved our menu, loved our food,” Hawkes said of the restaurant.
Holbrook’s Lobster Wharf and Grille will have new management this year. (Kelli Park photo)
But Hawkes said she decided to close the businesses after the November 2022 election, not because they were not profitable or viable, but because she is “fed up” with Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and the Democratic-controlled Maine Legislature.
She described Mills as anti-business, citing state mandates during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and said that Mills has not done enough to help fishermen, like those in her family.
She singled out a bill sponsored by state Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, that she said requires businesses with five or more employees to contribute to retirement accounts for their employees.
The bill, L.D. 1622, requires employers to facilitate direct deposits to retirement accounts from their employees’ wages, but employers do not and cannot contribute to those accounts. The law will take effect in April of this year, but the requirement for businesses with five to 14 employees will not take effect until April 2024.
“Sen. Vitelli and the advocates she worked with when drafting this legislation were very adamant about ensuring this program would not create a large financial burden on businesses,” Lisa Haberzettl, a spokesperson for Vitelli, said in an email.
Hawkes noted Harpswell’s strong support for Mills and other Democratic candidates, saying the town has changed for the worse.
“Maine already sucks to run a business in,” Hawkes said.
The Hawkes family will continue to own and operate Hawkes’ Lobster. Hawkes said she would focus on that business and her family, including two school-age children.
She spoke highly of the Holbrook Community Foundation and its support for fishermen. “The foundation has been good to me as landlords and they’re good to me as neighbors,” she said.
“I’d love to see it back open,” she said of the restaurant and store, and she is working with the foundation on the transition.
“It’s going to be hard right now,” she said. “This is a hard time to try to do anything.” She said it is hard to find employees, among other challenges.
“It has to be the right person to get all these pieces to work together,” she said.
Barmore, the chair of the foundation’s Tenants Committee, believes the organization has found the right person in Gogan. The foundation wanted to find a chef and a local. Gogan is both.
A foundation board member lives near Gogan and suggested her. The foundation met with three candidates to take over the businesses and selected Gogan.
“It’s not easy to staff a restaurant,” Barmore said. To have a chef as the manager-owner will solve a persistent problem for the four or five tenants of the restaurant since 2006 — hiring a chef to oversee the kitchen.
The restaurant needs a staff of three to five, Barmore said, whereas the store can get by with one.
Barmore said that Gogan plans to open the store as soon as she can obtain the necessary licenses. She plans to prepare ready-to-eat meals in the restaurant kitchen and sell them in the store. She also plans to use the restaurant kitchen as a base for catering.
Gogan plans to open the restaurant as early in the season as possible and keep it open as late as possible, Barmore said.