New managers prepare Chebeague inns for new season
CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — After being shuttered for the winter, things are moving again at the Chebeague Island Inn.
The dress code includes work boots, carpenter jeans and loose T-shirts: there's movement on the porch, where clear storm curtains are going up over the dining room windows, and on the staircase, where the banister is being dusted and polished.
In her suite upstairs, new manager Pat Parks is placing a huge first food order of the season, hoping she'll have everything she needs for an opening-night feast on Friday, May 22. She's still getting used to life on an island, where last-minute needs can't always be filled by a shop across town.
A short distance down the street, J and Jenny Holt are also getting ready for the island's summer season. After spending 10 years living and working on boats, the couple has landed at the Chebeague Orchard Inn, which they hope to revive after a season of being closed. They've updated the bed and breakfast's linens, painted and rearranged rooms, and opened up what used to be private space to create a small shop and a yoga room, which two guests were using Monday morning.
As both inns get going under new management, they've had support from the island community as well as from each other, the innkeepers said Monday. But that's not surprising, they added, since on a small island, any business is good for everyone.
Parks and her husband, Norm, a retired human resources lawyer, have been running hotels and restaurants for more than 25 years. Originally from Boston, they've operated hotels and owned restaurants from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island, and though they recently built a house in Florida, they've returned to New England to make Chebeague their home for a while.
"We're tired of running around the country," Norm Parks said, as his wife was busy making arrangements for Friday's events. Though the huge yellow inn overlooking the Chebeague Transport Co.'s ferry terminal has seen some turmoil over the last few years, Parks is confident that "if this place is workable, (Pat) will do it. She's always been successful."
Plus, he said, grinning, "I know what's going to come out of that kitchen."
Though the economy is a giant unknown for the couple, Parks said he expects that at least Mainers will vacation in Maine, even if nobody else does. Add the stay-cationers to the generally wealthy summer residents, hungry islanders, and day visitors, not to mention the guests and families of the 10 weddings booked for the summer, and the restaurant seems destined to do OK.
"If we can offer a good eating facility, people will come," he said.
Bragging about his wife's restaurant-savvy, Parks said everything will be fresh and most of it will be local. The meat, he said, will be fresh-cut in the kitchen rather than the frozen, portion-controlled cuts served in many other restaurants. Lobster will come from island fishermen; vegetables will come from the island's only farm, Secondwind Farm, whenever possible. And 95 percent of the inn and restaurant staff live on the island – rather than hire kids from the mainland, the couple offered to train any islanders looking for jobs.
They'll pack picnics and be a home base for day visitors, even if they're not staying at the inn, offer buffets on Monday nights, and a full dinner menu and bar every night. Entree prices range from $20 to $35, which Pat said isn't bad considering many of the ingredients are shipped over from the mainland.
"The menu is not gourmet," she said, "but it's all good stuff."
J Holt spent his childhood summers on Chebeague, so he's no stranger to the island's community. It's the community that drew him back after he and his wife, Jenny, decided they needed to land their boat and their lives somewhere.
After spending the last three years on a 64-foot sailboat, it was time to be on land, they said.
"Of all the places we've been, the community that exists on this island is unlike anything else we've seen anywhere," J said. "We definitely miss living on the water, but being part of a community is what we wanted."
That community was demonstrated for the couple once again in late April, when they held a pre-opening party at the inn and ended up seeing about 100 islanders throughout the night.
Both have grown used to the customary wave-from-the-steering-wheel when passing neighbors in their van, and are at home with their neighbors riding the ferry back and forth to buy groceries. And, conveniently, J's parents live just down the road.
The couple is renting the inn from the former operators, who chose not to run the inn last year. Though the Holts may buy the inn down the line, right now they said they're just trying to get a feel for how the inn works for them and the community.
They're excited to share the "magical transition" from mainland to island life with their guests, J said, and are looking forward to filling their home with interesting people, sharing their knowledge of the island and its history with those less familiar.
"We want people to feel at home here," he said.
Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.