It would be a lie to say that Michael Meholic traveled 426 miles just to have dinner at Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant Bar and Grill in Millinocket, but it wouldn’t be a terribly large lie.
A resident of Winsted, Conn., who runs a firewood delivery business, Meholic came to Dover-Foxcroft last week to visit his grandmother, he said. That journey is about 375 miles long.
Then he decided to go to Pelletier’s. That’s a mere 50 miles from Dover-Foxcroft.
“We watch the show most every week, and I thought it would be great to bring my kids here to check this place out,” Meholic said recently. “We do a little bit of logging business with our family. We’re loggers, too, in the minor sense of the word.”
The restaurant opened late last month, and so far seems to be doing exactly what the stars of the Discovery Channel’s “American Loggers” TV show and town officials hoped it would do — attract tourists from across the country to this small Katahdin region town.
“It’s been one of the most refreshing things to happen in Millinocket for many years,” Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said recently of the restaurant. “We had somebody who had flown in here last week and landed at the [Millinocket Municipal Airport] just to go to Pelletier’s.”
People claiming to be from New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York and many parts of Maine are among those who have visited the restaurant, said Eldon Pelletier, one of the patriarchs of the Pelletier family and a star of the TV show.
“From what I hear and see, it’s brought more people into town,” Pelletier said. “We can’t seat them all, so they go to other places around here.”
Since “American Loggers” debuted on the Discovery Channel 18 months ago, the reality TV program has used flashbacks and re-enactments to portray the personal and professional difficulties of the vast Pelletier family as it works its logging business.
Thanks to the show and the restaurant, town officials, who long have tried to lure more manufacturing businesses to the area to offset the economically devastating shutdown of the Katahdin Paper Co. mill, find themselves with the largest single cluster of restaurants in the Katahdin and Lincoln Lakes regions.
Adjoining Pelletier’s, the Blue Ox Saloon is a homey, casual bar lined with wood accents and knickknacks that features a wide-screen TV, small pool table and dance area. Across Penobscot Avenue, The Scootic Inn offers seafood, steaks and pasta dishes and a full bar. Pins ’N Cues, a bowling alley next to the Blue Ox, sells ice cream.
Near the Scootic, Angelo’s Pizza at 118 Penobscot Ave., offers Italian cuisine. The Appalachian Trail Cafe features more American fare and desserts at 210 Penobscot Ave.
Farther from there, Orvieto, at 67 Prospect St., sells specialty sandwiches and, heading east on Central Avenue, at the edge of downtown, is Effie’s Bakery & Catering, which sells baked goods at 551 Central Ave.
“It’s a cluster development that we have going here,” Conlogue said. “Pelletier’s is now the anchor of Penobscot Avenue, and because it is drawing large crowds, other restaurants will pick up the overflow and serve other customers. This is very exciting. We haven’t seen anything like this in a while.”
Other downtown restaurant owners agree.
“It’s been good for the area because it’s brought a lot of people in,” Scootic Inn owner George Simon said.
“It’s perfect. People are flying over here like the Wright brothers,” Blue Ox owner Tom St. John said.
Eldon Pelletier says his family spent close to $1 million renovating the former Downtown Restaurant and its adjoining Laundromat, which the family now operates, and it shows.
Cedar and pine woods mix with subdued shades of red under an original 100-year-old tin roof in the downstairs restaurant area. The floor originally was part of a barn and is the same vintage, said Jeff Pelletier, a relative.
A large front bay window gives the main dining room a splash of sunlight that washes almost clear back to the large rock fireplace that anchors the first floor. Truck license plates and other memorabilia, including a stand where “American Logger” T-shirts are sold, hang around the walls.
Other more personal touches are apparent. The first-floor cedar bar shows Caterpillar processor marks and came from Pelletier woods in the Telos area, as do the cedar posts around the first floor, Jeff Pelletier said.
Other fun touches: The wait staff wears Pelletier logging uniforms, and the cork-covered menus feature slyly named dishes such as Rudy’s Trash Can, a turkey sandwich. Skulls and trophies made from deer and moose shot by Jason or Eldon Pelletier are on the walls, as are a truck grille, license plates and other family memorabilia. The truck with which the Pelletiers’ father formed Gerald Pelletier Inc. in 1976 hangs outside the restaurant’s second floor. And baked beans made from the family’s recipe are on the menu.
Upstairs is a large dance floor with room for bands, a granite bar and jukeboxes.
“We had an awful lot of work done in here,” Jeff Pelletier said. “It took months. You can see it. You wouldn’t believe how the place looked when the work started.”
The Meholic boys, 4-year-old Michael Jr. and 3-year-old Kyle, got an autograph and poster from Jeff Pelletier during their meal as a few tables away, a cluster of Millinocket residents finished their dinner. They gave the food good marks.
“I love it,” said Angela Waite, 29, of Millinocket. “The portions are big, and the atmosphere is fun and open.”
“It’s nice to see something good happening in downtown,” said Janelle Spence, 54, of Millinocket.
“One of the things that’s so great about this place is that you have people who are age 21 to age 70, and they’re all having fun,” Waite said.
“They’re good, and they’ll be very good when they work the bugs out,” said Janelle’s husband, 56-year-old John Spence of Millinocket.
“As of right now, we are trying to improve what we have. We understand we have improvements we have to make,” Eldon Pelletier said. “We apologize for that. We have a good, experienced staff … it takes time for people to grow into their jobs.
“The newness will wear off here, but I don’t see it hurting the town any,” he added.
Eldon Pelletier thinks that a new snowmobile trail built last year at his end of Penobscot Avenue, which eventually connects to Interconnecting Trail System 86, a major statewide snowmobiling artery, will plug downtown directly into the region’s bountiful snowmobile trade, drawing more customers.
“We had a lot of snowmobiles parking here when we first opened,” he said. “They were all over the place.”
That same trail will be used by ATV riders when the Katahdin region’s first all-terrain vehicle trail is opened in 2012. Efforts to connect the regional trail to statewide ATV trails haven’t yet borne fruit, but merchants hope the regional trail will draw heavy ATV traffic and that eventually ATVs will become as popular as snowmobiles.
The hikers and outdoorsy types who frequent Baxter State Park just outside Millinocket probably will enjoy the restaurant, too, said Stanley Meholic Jr., 67, of Seymour, Conn.
As of the week of April 13, winter snows hadn’t yet left the highlands and only one park trail was open, according to the park’s Web site.
“During summer,” Meholic said, “when Baxter is open and they start getting the campers in here, this place will be jammed.”
WHO: The Pelletier family of the Discovery Channel’s “American Loggers.”
WHAT: Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant Bar and Grill, featuring American fare, steaks, sandwiches and seafood.
WHERE: 53 Penobscot Ave., Millinocket.
WHEN: 5 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Bar closes at 1 a.m.
WHY: To capitalize on the success of the show and provide the Katahdin region with another restaurant.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call 723-6100 or visit pelletierloggersfamilyrestaurant.com.