Brunswick restaurant stays on track with move to Maine Street Station

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BRUNSWICK — The owners of Scarlet Begonias live in a modest log cabin in Bowdoin. Doug Lavallee describes his pastoral home much the same way he does his business and his life, with borderline reverence and spot-on contentment.

“I feel so fortunate,” he said. “There are times when I sit home and just say to myself, ‘I’m so thrilled to live in this little kingdom.”

Ambition, let alone big risks, are not typically borne from such sentiments. Yet today, about a month after moving Scarlet Begonias from its cozy location at 212 Maine St. into the new $23.5 million Maine Street Station development, Doug and Colleen Lavallee are proving that successful business expansion need not be driven by wanting more – at least for oneself. 

“To a degree, none of this happens without the kids,” Doug
said Monday.

Lavallee’s two sons and daughter all work at Scarlet Begonias. All three, Doug said, were central to his decision to expand after nearly 14 years operating a successful bistro on Maine Street.

“It was important to grow for their sake,” said Lavallee. “If they decide to stay in this business, I want to make sure they have an opportunity (to make a living).”

Lavallee sat in Scarlet Begonias’ sun-splashed dining room on Monday. It’s only been a month since the restaurant opened at 16 Station Ave. Faint smells of new paint and Sheetrock remain, but Colleen Lavallee’s decorative touch is already warming the space.

Brightly colored paintings
hang from the walls; while flowers, incandescent lights and wooden furniture soften the restaurant’s commercial skeleton.

It was late morning, and staff were arriving for lunch service that’s blossomed since the restaurant opened in its new location Oct. 15.

In fact, the entire business has taken off. “We’re doing great,” Doug said.

Things have usually been pretty good at Scarlet Begonias, an eclectic neighborhood bistro Doug and Colleen opened in 1995. The couple, who graduated from Johnson & Wales University, broke from the local –  perhaps well-worn – menu offerings by putting a Mediterranean-twist on pizzas, pasta and sandwiches. 

Customers warmed to the restaurant’s ambiance. The food, prepared without pretense, was a hit.

“This is the food we eat,” Doug said. “A lot of what we do here, this is who we are.”

Doug and Colleen often spend 12 to 14 hours a day at the restaurant. All three
children work there: Hugh, 29, and Stephen,
27, are in the kitchen and Sallie, 26, who began washing dishes at age 12, now runs the front of the house.

The expansion has changed the business. There’s table service now, a bar and another 10 employees.

Sallie no longer delivers hand-written order slips to the kitchen; they’re now processed by a new point-of-sale system. For the first time in nearly 14 years, Scarlet Begonias takes credit cards.

Despite the leap of faith and the delays in building Maine Street Station – the restaurant was originally scheduled to open in February – Doug says the move came with little trepidation.

“I’m a can-do kind of guy,” he said. “Put the work in front of me and it’ll get done.”

The developers of Maine Street Station, and to some extent the town of Brunswick, are counting on that kind initiative. The Brunswick Development Corp. and Finance Authority of Maine backed a line of credit to assist the Lavallees’ expansion, a pledge that reveals much about the town’s commitment to the success of Maine Street Station, a project that has slogged through construction delays and a tough economy.

Scarlet Begonias and Bowdoin College’s The College Store are the only businesses operating in the development. Byrnes Irish Pub is expected to open before the end of the year, but so far other tenants have been slow to sign on, meaning construction on the remaining buildings is on hold.

But Lavallee is confident that will soon change. As he sat in his new dining room Monday, he spoke about the development benefiting from passenger train service. Across Station Avenue, it seemed like only warm weather was needed to spring the pocket park to life with performers and lunch-goers. 

“This whole development could become a vibrant center for the downtown,” Lavallee said. “I know that worries some people on Maine Street, but I think they’ll continue to do well and benefit from (Maine Street Station).”

But for now, Maine Street Station is benefiting from Scarlet Begonias.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or





m-brunscarletbegonias1-111309.jpgScarlet Begonias, a family-owned restaurant started in 1995, moved from Maine Street in Brunswick to 16 Station Ave. at Maine Street Station. The restaurant has increased in size and staff.

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m-brunscarletbegonias2-111309.jpgA small spinach and garlic pizza sits ready to be eaten in the dining room at Scarlet Begonias in Brunswick.