Food Network puts focus on Rockland cafe owner

Posted June 24, 2009, at 7:30 p.m.

Lynn Archer is in a whirl this week. The owner of The Brass Compass Cafe in Rockland spent Tuesday on a lobster boat going out to Matinicus with a film crew from “A Taste of Summer,” a new series on The Food Network. Wednesday she was cooking up a signature lobster dish for 50 invited guests under a tent at Rockland’s Harbor Park, while the cameras zoomed in on her efforts.

This is not the first time Archer has been the center of national attention. Last fall, when fuel prices skyrocketed and lobster prices hit rock bottom, she led a consciousness-raising effort to educate people in Maine and beyond about the plight of lobstermen, and to urge local people to eat more lobster. She even influenced some to forgo traditional turkey and serve lobster instead for their Thanksgiving dinners.

Her efforts, which were imitated in other parts of Maine, caught the attention of WCSH-TV news reporter Don Carrigan, leading to coverage on the nightly news and then the “Today” show and CNN. Now, The Food Network wants to take a look at what makes Archer tick, personally and professionally.

Regulars know The Brass Compass Cafe as a place where you can get a heaping plate of food at a reasonable price. Some lobstermen also know Archer as the person who kept them fed even when they didn’t have the cash to pay.

Archer said it is abundantly clear to her that the fishing community is the basis of the year-round economy here. “They’re the ones who are here all year, who shop in our community,” she said. “Without them, where would we be?

“When I first opened the place in 2003, I knew I fed more than bodies,” Archer said, sipping from a cup of coffee this week. “It’s my responsibility to be aware when someone’s having a hard time. Here in Maine, this comes naturally. We take care of our own.”

Last winter, Archer not only regularly fed without charge more than a dozen people who were down on their luck, she also took out a loan to keep all 20 of her employees at work rather than cutting staff once the tourists left town. “The restaurant does well when summer volume is high, but Maine winters are another story,” Archer said.

“Last winter, I had to take out a loan to keep afloat,” she said. “Other times, I’ve taken a second job myself to make ends meet. But how could I tell my staff I can’t pay them? It’s their child’s dental work. It’s their fuel. It’s the food on their table that would be jeopardized if I let them go,” she said.

Those employees, along with some dishes such as strawberry-rhubarb pancakes and “Matinicus Benedict” — a haddock fish cake topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce — keep people coming back to the cafe. Earlier this week, six locals sat around one of the tables in The Brass Compass Cafe while Archer poured coffee for them. One sentiment was echoed by the regulars: “Good food. Good people.”

Archer likes to think of her restaurant as “the ‘Cheers’ of Rockland. Everybody comes. Everybody’s always welcome,” she said.

But is it worth going into debt to get through the winter?

“Absolutely!” Archer said. “I keep giving because in giving I always receive more than I give. Much more.”

“A Taste of Summer” featuring Archer and The Brass Compass Cafe is tentatively set to be broadcast during Rockland’s 62nd annual Maine Lobster Festival, which runs from July 29 to Aug. 2.

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