Family values: Changes ahead for Harpswell marina, restaurant
HARPSWELL — Chris and Billy Saxton were about 5 years old when they began working the docks and launch at the Dolphin Marina & Restaurant. After that they worked in the restaurant's kitchen, doing dishes, picking lobsters, whatever needed to be done.
Today, the Saxton brothers still do just about everything. And so does the rest of the family. Chris' wife Maya works in the restaurant, as does Maureen Saxton, Chris and Billy's sister, who often leaves her home in Vermont during the summer to lend a hand at the family business on Basin Point.
Chris and Billy's parents, Bill Saxton Sr. and his wife, Mimi, still chip in, too. Mimi, it turns out, has a talent for remembering everyone's name, a real gift when a significant part of your business is customer service.
It's pretty hard not to run into a Saxton at Dolphin Marina & Restaurant. All six members of the Saxton's immediate family work there. It's been that way since 1960, when Malcolm and Jean Saxton opened the business hoping to capture some of the pleasure boat traffic in Casco Bay.
Little has changed at the family business – especially the family. But now, the business is about to change in a significant way.
That's because the Saxtons are in the middle of a $1.3 million reorganization and renovation to update the restaurant and aging infrastructure at the marina.
The project includes moving the restaurant to a new building south of the pier and boat launch. The restaurant will have the same menu with recipes from Jean Saxton, but it will also have a tavern. Chris Saxton hopes the pub will help the Saxtons extend the restaurant's current six-month season into the winter holidays.
Over at the marina, the Saxtons are cleaning up the boat yard. They've installed a new state-of-the-art fuel system and added more green space near the shore. They're also removing a rundown repair shop at the end of Basin Point and adding a vessel pump-out float to keep Casco Bay clean. Such steps have Dolphin aiming for Clean Marina certification.
The marine service shop will be replaced and moved to a new location. Dolphin will also provide a boater's lounge with washers and dryers. Sixteen transient slips will be added.
These are big changes for the Saxtons, who are trying to meet new needs while maintaining a loyal customer base.
"We put our heart and soul into everything we do," Chris Saxton said. "That's one of the things that's made us successful. It helps we have a beautiful spot, but it's been great food and personal service, too."
The changes didn't come easily, Chris said. And some were necessary to avoid fines by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Now, instead of fines, the overhaul of the marina should yield a more environmentally friendly and sustainable business.
The Saxtons have also reduced the size of their marina lot. They put three acres into a family trust for preservation, a move that will allow the tip of Basin Point to revert to its natural state.
The Saxtons are getting a little help for the project: a $363,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The grant requires a 27 percent match by the Saxtons.
The family is also receiving a lot of community support. No residents spoke against the project during the Planning Board review – a rare occurrence for $1.3 million worth of renovations and construction.
Chris attributes the support to the Saxton's standing in the community and a business that's not just family-owned, but family-operated.
"That's not just for effect," he said. "You can't fake it. You're either here or you're not. We really loved what we do and all of us feel blessed to do it."