FORT KENT - In less than a month, a new restaurant will be opening in town, the Mill Bridge Restaurant. Barry Pelletier, the owner, said he plans to open the doors on March 19.
The vision that Pelletier has for his place is for a family-oriented, sit-down restaurant that serves steak, chicken, and seafood, with a couple of soup, sandwich, and hot entree specials during the weekdays and on the weekends.
He said the dining room is 99 percent finished and the kitchen is 95 percent finished, with the menu to be finalized shortly.
Pelletier has a long history of working in restaurants in the area. He started his cooking career at the Fort Kent Hotel twenty-two years ago, at the young age of sixteen. His next move took him to the hospital cafeteria, where he stayed for about six years, then the university for another six years, and finally back to the hospital for eight more years.
He's thought about owning his own business for years.
"I told Rudy and Diane [the owners of the Fort Kent Hotel] I was going to buy the Hotel," said Pelletier.
He said the motivation to buy the old Hoagie's building now was that it seemed like time to move on from the hospital and to try something different.
"What was I thinking?" He chuckled, saying the preparation process has been long and time-consuming. He'd started preparing before he'd even acquired the building.
Because he really wanted the place to have a "homey" feeling, he said he's decorated the building with lots of items from his own home, which is now on the market, including a dresser that has been disassembled into the wait station, the bathroom mirror, and a frame for a picture on the wall. One of the knickknacks on a shelf on the wall is a meat grinder that used to be his mothers, and might have been his grandmothers.
He said, "I just want a quiet, small restaurant," a place where people can bring their families and sit down to enjoy a good evening and just relax, but also to have some good food.
"I'm excited about food. I like to cook it and I like to eat it." He laughed.
He said settling on a name for his business was a struggle for him. He'd gotten some feedback about calling the restaurant Barry's Place, but that didn't really work for him. He finally settled on Mill Bridge, after the "Fort Kent Mills" and the bridge next to which the building is located.
All of the furniture in the restaurant is secondhand, although Pelletier and his friends expended quite a bit of effort to reupholster and refurbish it. The table and chairs were all purchased in Brewer, for example. Pelletier said friends helped to refurbish the furniture in his garage over a day.
"I've had a lot of good help," he said.
Pelletier said he's considering holding what he's calling a "soft opening," a by-invitation-only evening prior to the grand opening that will operate as a trial run for the restaurant staff. He said it would be a way to get some feedback from customers in order to work out some of the kinks before the likely craziness of the first few months.
Either way, he said, "I'm looking forward to getting back to what I'm good at, instead of the construction stuff."
"I hope I never have to see sheetrock or joint compound again." He laughed.