Story posted February 10, 2009
Author: Edgar Allen Beem
Photography: Michele Stapleton
The eternal sun, symbol of Bowdoin College, goes down over Casco Bay with a spectacular display of pinks, reds and golden yellows. The evening view from the balcony of the Mt. Washington Room at the Log Cabin Island Inn on Bailey Island in Harpswell is a breathtaking 180-degree panoramic sweep that takes in everything from the glow of Brunswick to the distant halo over Portland and the twinkling of lights on islands and boats in the bay.
As darkness falls across the coastal landscape, steam rises from the 101-degree waters of the Jacuzzi on the deck into the crisp 60-degree night air. Faint, happy voices drift reassuringly across Merriconeag Sound from South Harpswell. A sip of cool, fruity pinot grigio. The heady aroma of seaweed and salt air. Yes, this is Maine, The Way Life Should Be.
Maine is Vacationland. Tourism is the state’s second largest industry, after consumer services and ahead of manufacturing. Some 10 million overnight visitors and another 30 million daytrippers pump $10 billion a year into Maine’s $48 billion economy and support close to 140,000 tourism-related jobs.
Given the prominence of Bowdoin in the public life of Maine, it’s not surprising that Bowdoin graduates are players in the state’s tourism industry. Indeed, with a little resourcefulness, it might actually be possible to take a Bowdoin Maine vacation, patronizing inns, restaurants, and pubs owned and operated by alumni of the College. In visiting late this summer with a sampling of Bowdoin innkeepers and restaurateurs, what came across most vividly was the degree to which they are purveyors of authenticity, offering experiences of the real Maine that range from a pint of fried clams to a pint of local ale, from canoeing in search of moose to sailing along the coast.
Susan Allen Favreau ’91 sells the sunset. Unlike most of the featured Bowdoin grads, Favreau, co-owner of the Log Cabin, did not turn to tourism after other pursuits. She grew up in the restaurant business, starting as girl of 13 waiting tables and washing dishes in her aunt’s restaurant on Bailey Island.
“I’ve been in this business forever,” says Favreau. “And I knew from birth I was going to live here.”
Susan Allen Favreau owns the Log Cabin with her husband Neal, an electrical contractor in Brunswick who does a lot of work for the College. She grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, but she summered from childhood on Bailey Island and settled here as a young woman.
In 1979, Susan and Neal Favreau purchased an expansive log summer home on the island and turned it into the popular Log Cabin Restaurant. In 1996, the Favreaus converted the restaurant into the Log Cabin, An Island Inn, opening with six rooms and adding two more and a seaside pool a few years later.
These days, the Log Cabin dining room is only open to guests of the inn who dine on local foods such as a savory crab dip followed by shrimp and scallop pesto, and Bailey Island peach pie. The dining room is a rustic affair hung with the previous owner’s trophies such as the moose head and 500-pound tuna mounted on the wall.
Somehow, in the midst of running and growing the business, Susan Favreau managed to take enough time away from the Log Cabin to attend Bowdoin as a non-traditional student, earning a sociology degree in 1991 at the age of 40. Now that her son and daughter-in-law do much of the day-to-day operations, Favreau is starting to think about a graduate school.
What is most distinctive about the Log Cabin – other than the architecture and the view – is the fact that the Favreaus seem to have thought of everything. The cozy suites come equipped with all the modern conveniences, from cable TV and wireless Internet access to Rinnai heaters, flashlights, umbrellas, ironing boards, Q-tips and cotton balls. The Log Cabin seems a perfect place to hunker down for the winter, but in late October the Favreaus close up shop and start thinking about heading for their winter home in Key West.
“It’s pretty desolate down here in the winter,” Susan Favreau explains, “and it’s pretty windy.”
Halfway Rock Light, the remote lighthouse that marks the middle of Casco Bay, is clearly visible from the tip of Bailey Island, but the first lighthouse visitors to Maine see when they enter from the south belongs to Michael Landgarten ’80. Landgarten’s lighthouse, or rather a reasonable facsimile of one, stands in front of Robert’s Maine Grill on Route One in Kittery. Robert’s and its predecessor business, Bob’s Clam Hut, stand on either side of Spruce Creek and offer hungry travelers a true taste of Maine.
Michael Landgarten, an art history major and rock musician who came to Bowdoin from Worcester, Massachusetts, seems an unlikely candidate to run a roadside clam shack, but then Bob’s Clam Hut is a local landmark and real Maine classic. After graduation, Landgarten studied computers and worked writing code for several years while playing in rock bands. He got into the restaurant business almost by default.
“I had some notion,” Landgarten explains, “that I wanted to own a business so I could support my music habit.” He started looking at bed & breakfasts in Cape Cod and Maine, but a realtor in southern Maine kept urging that he “Check out Bob’s Clam Hut.” Bob Kraft had started the little clam shack in 1956 and by 1986 was looking to sell. When Landgarten told his old Bowdoin buddy Dave Kunicky ’80 he was thinking of buying Bob’s, Kunicky surprised him by saying, “That makes total sense.” “It does?”
Landgarten was a vegetarian at the time and couldn’t quite see himself as a fry cook, but Kunicky reminded him that, when they shared an apartment in college, Landgarten had kept a map posted on the refrigerator that pinpointed every seafood joint within 30 miles of Bowdoin. In college, he had lived on fish sandwiches, and chocolate shakes. “Bob’s was a homerun,” says Landgarten. “It was a well-oiled machine when I bought it. Bob Kraft developed it. I just refined it a little bit.”
Indeed, Bob’s is a first class operation, cooking up 2,500 gallons of clams a year, serving only “specials,” clams sorted to be the same size so they fry up evenly. And Landgarten is a stickler for clean cooking oil. “The biofuels folks are lining up at our door,” he says. “We’re insane about how much we change the oil.”
In 2006, Landgarten opened Robert’s Maine Grill, which he describes as “Bob’s gets dressed up a little bit, puts on shoes and goes out to dinner.” Both restaurants operate on what he calls “an unusual business model.” A progressive businessman, as an employer Michael Landgarten seeks to “create meaning, commitment, and a sense of ownership.” To that end, his restaurants operate with five bottom lines, open financials, and profit sharing. Making money is not more important to him than being a good steward of the environment and giving back to the community. Active in Share Our Strength, the culinary industry’s anti-hunger campaign, Landgarten helped make the Portsmouth area’s annual Taste of the Nation fundraiser, in which 80 local restaurants raised $100,000 to fight hunger in 2008, a rousing success.
And Michael Landgarten credits his Bowdoin mentor, emeritus associate professor of art history Larry Lutchmansingh, with instilling a sense of social justice in him. “Your values,” says Landgarten, “inform how you do business.”
Should a winter visitor to Maine crave a pint in a great Irish pub, however, there is always the Brian Boru Public House on the edge of the Old Port in Portland. Established in 1993 by three young Irishmen – Fergus and Justin O’Reilly and Laurence Kelly – and modeled after a pub in their native town of Naas, Brian Boru is co-owned by Daniel Steele ’84.
“I got involved with Brian Boru when it started,” says Steele. “My main interest was in purchasing the real estate.” Brian Boru, with a giant pint of Guinness painted on its ruddy façade, is “a warm community bar with an eclectic group of people,” says Steele. “It’s fun and social, a good part of the fabric of Portland.”
A history major at Bowdoin with a concentration in Latin American studies, Daniel Steele always intended to go into commercial real estate. As such he is more or less a silent partner in one Portland’s most popular bars. And though he lives just across Center St. from Brian Boru, in fact, Daniel Steele says he does not spend a lot of time in the pub, adding, “That’s probably a good thing.”
If this be so, then Peter Hastings ’05 seems to value a good time had by all. Leary’s Landing Irish Pub, which Hastings opened in 2007 with his partner Christina Hines, has quickly become one of downtown Bar Harbor’s favorite watering holes, a little side street hole-in-the-wall featuring a great selection of local brews and pub grub.
At just 500 square feet and 15 barstools, Leary’s Landing may be small, but the beauty of it, says Peter Hastings, is “it always looks full. With just 12 people in it, it looks like a happening bar.” Peter Hastings, who grew up in Hampden, Maine, majored in American government and minored in education at Bowdoin. He fully intends to go to law school one of these days, but right now he’s having too much fun to go back to school, not to mention that Leary’s Landing turned a profit its first year and revenues were up 64% in 2008 over 2007.
Growing up just an hour from the booming resort town of Bar Harbor, Hastings came of age in the hospitality industry. He started out in high school as a bellman at a Bar Harbor inn and, by the time he graduated from Bowdoin, he was working summers as the director employee housing and marina operations for Ocean Properties Ltd, a company that owns six hotels and five restaurants on Mount Desert Island.
After graduation, Hastings hired on as the director of revenue management for the Hilton Hotel Corporation in Salt Lake City, Utah. Christina Hines, a Clark University grad, worked as regional sales manager. After two years in Utah, Hastings and Hines decided, “We wanted to work for ourselves. We thought it would be fun to have a small Irish pub in either Annapolis, Maryland, or Bar Harbor.”
Hastings chose Bar Harbor because he already had contacts there and knew the climate and the seasons well. Once the summerfolk and the tourists go home, the cruise ships stop docking, and the fall leaf-peepers disappear, Leary’s Landing closes up shop the first of December. “It’s just too cold,” Peter Hastings explains, “and staffing becomes a problem.”
The Maine hospitality community also, however, boasts a few Bowdoin grads who fled Corporate America for the simpler, saner lives of innkeepers. Charles Emerson ’63, for instance, was an art major at Bowdoin, thinking he might go into his family’s fine printing business, Anthoensen Press. But that was not to be. Emerson spent more than three decades in the banking and commercial real estate businesses, both in Boston and Portland, before opting out.
In 1999, he and his wife Ann purchased the White Gates Inn on Route One in Rockport, right next door to Roxmont, the grand old estate that houses the offices of Down East magazine. The Emersons’ home, in fact, was originally the Roxmont guest cottage. “Charles was frustrated with office jobs,” explains Ann Emerson, as her husband finishes some chores around the modest 14-room motel. “He likes to be continually working outside. He really likes the upkeep part of it.”
“I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands, fixing things up,” agrees Charlie Emerson when he comes in dusted with flecks of white paint. “I do most of the work around here myself.” So while Ann attends to the office and bookkeeping, Charlie sees to the maintenance and upkeep. As a great deal of their business is overnight travelers on their way up or down the coast, the Emersons never know who is going to be stopping in at the White Gates Inn, but they say they have been delighted with the quality of their guests.
“We’ve made a lot of friends,” says Ann, “especially among the kids who come to the Workshop.” To bolster their off-season business, the Emersons have a contract to house students attending the nearby Maine Media Workshop, formerly the Maine Photographic Workshop.
Running a business together as a couple can be challenging, so a division of labor is highly recommended, not only by Charles and Ann Emerson, but also by William Foley ’81 and Sally Johnson ’81, proprietors of the Moosehead Hills Cabins in Greenville. William Foley was a biology major at Bowdoin and Sally Johnson majored in math. Bill spent many years in sales and marketing with Coca-Cola and Sally had a 20-year career in sales and marketing with IBM.
“We started Moosehead Hills Cabin 10 years ago,” says Sally Johnson. “We both decided the corporate rat race world wasn’t any fun. We wanted to try doing something in a wilderness area, something with year-round outdoor recreation.” Thus, Foley and Johnson purchased land near Lily Bay in Greenville where, over the past decade, Bill has built their home and five log-sided cabins which they rent out to hikers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, canoeists, kayakers, and folks attracted to the Moosehead Lake region for the unparalleled moose-watching.
“A different type of tourist is coming to Greenville than you would have found 20 or 30 years ago,” says Sally Johnson, noting that very few of their guests are hunters or fishermen. Low-impact, muscle-powered sports and “green tourism” have become increasingly popular throughout Maine in recent years. Moosehead Hills Cabins and Log Cabin Island Inn, in fact, are two of 77 state-certified “green lodgings” in the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Leaders program.
So, in addition to operating and marketing their five cabins and offering a concierge service for guests looking for wilderness guides, Johnson and Foley must also pay careful attention to such things as waste management and water conservation, the toxicity of housekeeping products, energy efficiency, and the environmental impact of landscaping. Despite the challenges of taking to the woods after life in the corporate fast lane, Sally Johnson is sincere when she says, “It’s been a really fascinating and rewarding experience to build our own business.”
Finally, one of the places where the old Maine and the new meet along the coast is at Linekin Bay Resort on Wall Point in Boothbay Harbor. The resort, with its cluster of modest, fog gray cottages and lodges and fleet of Rhodes 19 sailboats, has been in the Branch family since 1909, evolving over the 20th century from a family compound first into a girls’ camp and then into a family-oriented sailing resort.
When owner Bob Branch died in 1996, his widow Ida soldiered on alone until 2001 when a manager was hired to look after the rapidly deteriorating cottage colony. Wanting to preserve the old seaside resort, where some guests have been summering since 1946, Bob and Ida Branch’s son Peter and daughter Kristina went looking for a new future for Linekin Bay Resort.
Peter Branch, headmaster of the Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., was in no position to operate the resort himself, so he turned to Stewart “Chip” Newell ’68 for a new plan. “The Branch family called us to help find out what the next life for Linekin Bay Resort should be,” says Chip Newell, who with his wife Susan Morris does business as the NewHeight Group, a marketing and development consulting firm with offices in Miami Beach and, more to the point, Boothbay Harbor.
Chip Newell, an economics major at Bowdoin, decided to return to Maine in 2003 after attending his 35th Bowdoin reunion. With 30 years experience in real estate development, Newell helped the Branch family formulate and get permitted a plan that calls for replacing many of the aging Linekin Bay Resort cottages with expansive new seaside homes while renovating and expanding the resort’s main lodge. “The plan is to develop and sell the homes to support a new lodging facility,” says Newell, who hopes construction and sales of the new Linekin Bay Resort homes can begin in 2009, the economy permitting.
Since returning to Maine, Newell says he has become aware of just how pervasive Bowdoin graduates are in all walks of Maine life. The head of the Boothbay Harbor planning board he presented the development play to, Newell notes, was William Hamblen ’72. And the real estate attorney for the project is Carl R. “Chip” Griffin, III ’77. “I started my career in Denver where people couldn’t even pronounce Bowdoin,” says Chip Newell. “Then I worked in Washington, D.C., where people could pronounce it but there were very few Bowdoin grads. It feels good to be surrounded by the Bowdoin community.”
And that’s a familiar sentiment from one end of Vacationland Maine to the other. “A lot of Bowdoin parents and a lot of alumni stay here,” says Susan Favreau back at the Log Cabin Island Inn. “If they stay here when their kids are freshmen, they stay for all four years.”
“I’ve been in this business forever and I knew from birth I was going to live here.” — Susan Allen Favreau ’91