NORTH YARMOUTH — After two years away, Chris Cole is back at the helm of a community centerpiece.
And Stone’s Cafe & Bakery, in the middle of town between the two intersections of Route 9 and Route 115, is hopping at breakfast and lunch.
Stone’s boasts a history in town that reaches back to the 19th century and includes time as a country store, according to the North Yarmouth Historical Society.
Cole’s story with the building began in 2006, when she and Caite Maynard – with whom she had cooked at the Portland Public Market’s “Stone Soup” venue – purchased the 424 Walnut Hill Road building.
The restaurant at that time was known as Stones Grove, according to the historical society. Cole and Maynard incorporated that name, and that of their prior partnership location, into the business’s then-new name.
“I feel more like I’m a steward of this place, than the owner,” Cole said last week, recalling the business’s lengthy history and longtime customers, such as the gentleman who puts out the “open” flag every morning.
Cole, 48, eventually took over the business, but left in 2013 after two deaths in her family. While her restaurant experience was rewarding, it was also time-consuming, she said.
“I just needed that freedom to do some other things,” the Windham resident added, like spending time with her siblings’ children.
The business wasn’t as successful under new management, and with a name change to Heart Stones Diner. So Cole returned in August and soon plans soon to restore the venue’s familiar name.
“I was really, really fortunate that so many people came back to me,” the head chef said, referring to, among others, baker Diane Kirby.
“I only work for Chris,” Kirby said as she stirred some batter, adding with a laugh, “when Chris leaves, I leave. Because she’s so great.”
“I was really blessed with good staff,” Cole said.
And good customers, who seem to appreciate her return.
“People will just come up and hug me, (and say) ‘you’re back,'” Cole said, rolling dough for dinner rolls in the kitchen as the dining room hummed with lunchtime activity.
“We’re building back up again,” she added. “It’s just been so gratifying.”
Cole said a healing trip to Ireland helped her to refocus her life, readjust her priorities, and not sweat things quite so much.
“It gives me a different perspective,” she said, noting that the business is “important to me, it makes me happy, but if I need to take some time, I need to take some time. … Everything I want to do, I want to do to be happy.”
Such as adding a children’s corner to her restaurant.
“I love kids,” Cole said. “It’s huge to this place, all the kids and the families.”
She has watched those children grow up in the past nine years, and has employed some of them.
Darla Hamlin is one resident who’s been frequenting the restaurant since before Cole’s time. She and three friends would meet there for breakfast.
“I just find it a happy place to be,” Hamlin said. “I can walk in, know that I’m going to know somebody in the room.”
Hamlin praised the business’s food and place in the community, noting that “the community needs this, and (Cole is) really fulfilling (that) need.”
One thing that makes Stone’s unique is that its pies are all from scratch, Cole explained. Its coconut cakes are among the best sellers.
Cole’s day at Stone’s starts a little before 6 a.m., when she puts the coffee on the burner. Even though the doors don’t officially open until 7 a.m., Cole welcomes the coffee drinkers in earlier to warm up with a cup. The breakfast and lunch crowds come and go, and the doors close at 2 p.m.
And that’s how it is every Tuesday through Sunday. Cole plans only to close on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
While Stone’s used to offer dinner, the Saturday nights ran up against Sunday, the busiest day of the week, and Cole said she prefers to focus the operation to the day’s first two meals. She also continues to hold fundraising dinners on a case-by-case basis.
Her favorite item on the menu? The vegetable Benedict, followed by chicken curry, a menu mainstay.
Chris Cole, left, is back as owner and head chef of Stone’s Cafe & Bakery, a longtime fixture at 424 Walnut Hill Road in North Yarmouth. Diane Kirby is her baker and friend. (Alex Lear / The Forecaster)