Scott and Brae Harley are the new owners of Gurnet Trading Co. in Brunswick, just across Gurnet Strait from Harpswell. They bought the seafood market in February and opened in March. (Jerry Klepner photo)
Two life-changing events convinced Brae and Scott Harley to buy Gurnet Trading Co., a popular seafood market and small restaurant in Brunswick, just across Gurnet Strait from Great Island.
“It was kind of a sign,” said Brae. “My dad died the end of April (2022). We were trying to do something else before he passed. He died on a Wednesday and a week later, Scott had a stroke.”
“I’m an accountant and had my own business for 30 years,” said Brae. “Scott is a lobsterman who started fishing with his father in kindergarten.” After her husband’s stroke, they needed to make a change. “This was up for sale. We thought we could be successful and so we pivoted.”
The Harleys bought the business and a house next door from Brian and Julia Soper this past February and reopened March 1. The Sopers had owned the restaurant for more than two decades and were ready to move on.
Julia, known to many locals as Julie, “is like Scott’s second cousin and we got into a discussion,” recalled Brae. Her husband “called a family meeting and said, ‘This is the way to go.'”
The stroke cost Scott most of the vision in his right eye, but he’s back lobstering a couple of days a week on his 45-foot boat, Fat Bottom Girl. He keeps the boat on a mooring in front of Harley Way, next to the Durant Lobster wharf in Cundy’s Harbor.
To make sure the couple could manage the new venture, Brae worked in the Gurnet kitchen from this past September until they bought the business. “I was trying to see whether I could do it and whether I wanted to do it,” she continued. “It worked out good. I was the grate-the-carrot girl, do-the-dishes girl, wash-the-trash-cans girl,” tasked with mundane chores no one else wanted to do.
“It was great,” she said, and the experience shows there’s nothing she would ask her employees to do that she wouldn’t do herself.
The couple chatted with a reporter on a chilly Saturday morning in a cozy former storage area with three tables. There also are a couple of tables by the fish counters, as well as outdoor picnic tables. Scott sat at one of the tables, keeping his eye on the door as customers came and went. Brae dashed in and out to help in the kitchen or answer questions from staff.
“I’m exhausted,” she said. “I’m putting out fires here all day: scheduling, payroll, taxes, unpacking boxes, ordering my fish, dealing with vendors and clam diggers, learning to cook.”
After buying Gurnet — its name will stay the same — Brae said the family spent “a hard week” cleaning, painting, buying some new equipment, installing carpeting and adding a few new light fixtures. “We did it all in a week,” she said.
And she’s stressed that information about Gurnet is incorrect on some third-party websites. The business’s website is gurnettradingcompany.com.
Gurnet will be open seven days a week. From Monday-Saturday, hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the kitchen closing at 5:30. On Sundays, the business is open from 11-4 p.m., again with the kitchen closing a half-hour before the store.
Brae and Scott, both of whom will be 52 years old this summer, live in Bath. They have a house in Cundy’s Harbor where Scott’s 25-year-old son, Nate, lives. Nate was oystering while Brae’s 17-year-old son, Mason, was helping in the kitchen. “We are very fortunate we have hardworking kids,” Brae said.
Brae had a staff of seven in early spring and expects to have eight to 10 workers by May. “My band of misfits are all working here,” she said, chuckling. “I’ve known most of them since they were 8.”
Lobstering is in Scott’s blood. He was in kindergarten when he started to work on the water with his dad, Luther, a Cundy’s Harbor lobsterman who died when Scott was 8.
Brae and Scott dated in high school. He moved to Bath when he was 9 years old. Both married and divorced before they reconnected. They have been together since 2016.
Scott, who laughs a lot and likes to tease, knew most of the people who came into the market. “How are you?” customer Terry Leonard asked when he saw Scott, who was wearing a gray Carhartt sweatshirt. Leonard calls Bath home but has lived on Bailey Island. “I fished for a lot of years. It’s a hard industry,” he said.
“You’ll see me more now,” Scott said with a chuckle. “Take a menu home with ya.”
Buying Gurnet’s was the right thing to do, said Scott. “I’m a fix-it guy.” And Brae will continue her accounting work one day a week with a few clients.
The stroke “has been very hard on him,” said Brae. She smiled lovingly at Scott and patted him on the shoulder. “It’s hard when you can’t read something. He’s more dependent.”
Scott returned her smile. “She’s a good woman,” he said. “You need a good life and a good wife.” He paused, adding, “Eat lobster.”
Connie Sage Conner is a retired editor of The Virginian-Pilot. She lives in Harpswell and serves on the Harpswell News Board of Directors.