By Amy Miller
While we were hiding in our houses, new businesses were quietly opening their doors in South Berwick. Despite a pandemic, a lockdown, and a near complete lack of foot traffic, three restaurants, an inn and a tech shop opened up within a few hundred feet of each other on Main Street. And the icing on the cake is that all these new enterprises were started by South Berwick families.
First to open was Odd Fellows Tavern, which actually had its grand opening on March 4, just 10 days before people around the country were directed to stay at home. That first week Odd Fellows was packed with diners and enthusiasm, according to owner Greg Sessler, who opened the restaurant with his wife, Kristen Sessler. Then they had to improvise.
In the fall of 2020, brothers John and Jim Flynn opened the Stage House Inn and the inn’s fine dining restaurant, Dufour. The pub, restaurant and 20-room inn sit in an historic building that in the 1820s hosted General Lafayette and President Monroe.
Then in February 2021, Lee and Brooke Frank opened the long-awaited Lee Franks burger and hot dog joint. The Franks had been leasing the building since March 1, 2020, but put their plans on hold waiting for the perfect time to open. When they realized such a time was not just around the corner, the forged head, opening “to absolute gangbusters,” according to Lee Frank.
How did these business owners do it? How did they open against all odds?
Odd Fellows was already equipped with a wood-fired pizza oven, and Sessler modified his vision to focus heavily on takeout pizza. His kids did homework in the restaurant, staff was limited to family and one other worker, and Sessler and two buddies stayed up most of a night in July building an outside eating area.
By the time Lee Franks opened, people were heading back into restaurants and a fast-food local spot seemed just what the town wanted. The Franks also had a child at the elementary school across the street who could come hang out at the restaurant while parents were working.
For Matt Gallant, who opened Oasis IT in April, the timing was helpful rather than challenging.
“More and more people were becoming more reliant on technology and more isolated,” Gallant said.
And truth be told, Gallant thought this would be a great project for him and his daughter, Katie, who was home from college for the year.
“I was trying to figure out with my daughter what she wanted to do, and I said, ‘for fun we can open a computer store,’” said Gallant, a former tech guy for the Air Force who was already working out of his home as a tech consultant.
When Gallant put out the word that he might start this business, the community was uniformly supportive. People said they would gladly get tech help locally rather than from a big box store.
Local support, it seems, has been key for South Berwick’s new businesses.
PS – Two medical marijuana shops also opened in town during Covid, but we will save that for another column.
By Guy Trammell Jr.
Tuskegee’s all Black Village of Greenwood always had lots of places to eat something tasty. Mrs. Burrough’s ice cream, Allen’s Variety Store hot dogs, Perry’s barbecue, the Quiet Place’s 15-cent hamburgers (but don’t let your parents know you went in there!), and Price’s donuts, with flakes of icing, in a wax paper sleeve from Love’s Barber Shop. Of course the list goes on, but I must mention Wiley’s sit down restaurant with linen tablecloths, Thomas Reed’s Chicken Coop, and Larkin’s. For those who don’t know, it was Larkin’s barbecue that was pretty much the best in the land. No fat, an ideal sauce, and the cooking technique that made you want to chew the bone. Apologies to the family dogs. They got no treat that night; all was consumed.
When I attended the integrated Tuskegee High School in downtown Tuskegee, Joe’s Dairy Bar was the main attraction nearby, with their irresistible foot-long chili dogs, and if you had the funds, a shake and maybe fries to go with it. Tuskegee’s first real sandwich shop — in other words, a place to get a hoagie (submarine) — was Tuskegee Sundries, located on the Square. Don’t forget the pickle! They stayed open late and brought in the customers.
Currently, during the coronavirus pandemic, we lost our major department store, Roses, but new businesses focusing on the food industry have emerged in Tuskegee. Downtown, just off the Square, is City Kitchen, offering a great selection for breakfast and lunch. You can get a hearty Southern breakfast with egg, toast, turkey sausage and of course freshly cooked, buttered grits. Take your time to fully enjoy this treat. For lunch there are a variety of sandwiches, delicious wraps and savory soups.
Back in the Village of Greenwood, just across from the Institute Post Office, is Access Health Bar with tasty salads, refreshing fruit drinks, hot food selections, and an amazing variety of delicious smoothies. This business, which began at the Macon County Farmers Market in downtown Tuskegee, still focuses on fresh, locally grown products, and the flavors testify to that. With July and August ahead of us, a nice smoothie is just the thing to help beat the heat.
Allen’s Variety Store’s old building, across from Access Health Bar, is the place to feed your indulgences at The Craving. If your sweet tooth is calling for attention and your desire for those comfort desserts is getting out of hand, then this is the place for you. The Craving has the slogan “Where Desserts of Your Dreams Become Reality!” and their large menu attests to this. From a 7-up pound cake to a Superman or Purple Rain cake, they can make an occasion special.
They also have blackberry, apple and even peach strawberry cobblers. And of course double chocolate, snickerdoodle, and white chocolate macadamia cookies, to name a few, along with ice cream and pies. But their main attraction are the Luckis cheesecakes imported from Detroit. These include orangesicle, butter pecan and pineapple upside down deluxe. You might have to park your car and walk home to exercise the calories away!
Yes, I do have good memories of Larkin’s and enjoying Mrs. Burrough’s ice cream, but I seem to hear my name being whispered by a certain blackberry cobbler in Allen’s old building.