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Longtime chef ‘Jimmy V’ scales back – and expands

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Jimmy Vardamis assembles whoopie pies in the kitchen at Jimmy V's Soups, Sandwiches and More on Hammond Street on Tuesday, November 23, 2010. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Fifty years after opening his first restaurant, a small takeout place in Bar Harbor that served breakfast items and catered to the late-night-early morning crowd, Jimmy Vardamis is still cooking with gas.

And oil and electricity and charcoal.

And yet “Jimmy V” is finally easing back on his rigorous cooking regimen and letting someone else worry about management-ownership issues.

The 74-year-old Vardamis is going to balance his days between cooking, golf and semi-retirement with Rose, his wife of seven years.

“Basically, I’ve sold my name and business and stayed on to make all the soups and daily specials,” Vardamis explained. “It’s time for me to slow down. I can come and go when I want to and play a lot more golf.”

While the work day will become shorter for the longtime chef and Bangor native, his current business is expanding, thanks to a new ownership group including former Bangor High School and Husson University football coach Jonathan “Gabby” Price, former Bangor City Councilor Dan Tremble, Ground Round general man-ager Michael “Andy” Stephenson, and longtime Husson and Bangor High assistant coach Nat Clark.

“We’re not interested in reinventing the wheel. The food will be the same and we’re certainly excited about expanding the business and having Jimmy be a part of it,” said Price.

Jimmy V’s Soups, Sandwiches and More will remain open at 621 Hammond St. from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, while Jimmy V’s The Place to Be will be open all week with yet-to-be-determined later hours. The new location, in the Broadway building that formerly housed Kentucky Fried Chicken, will have more seating and also sell buffalo wings, beer and wine.

The new place should open in two to three weeks, according to Vardamis and Price.

Counting the new eatery on Broadway, Vardamis now has 16 restaurants to his credit.

“I know that only because my wife asked me the other night, and the answer was 16 after we sat down and counted them out,” Vardamis said. “The one I think I enjoyed the most was Talk of The Town with the piano lounge inside the Econo Lodge. I liked the atmosphere and it wasn’t too big, so I could do some real fancy cooking.”

From there, Vardamis moved downtown and opened Jimmy V’s Bar and Grill at Dunnett’s Plaza.

“The first one, which no one will ever remember, was called Chicken Delight and it was open from 11 to 6 in the morning,” Vardamis recalled.

Vardamis, who opened the popular spot while still working at The Mary Jane Restaurant in Bar Harbor in 1961, bought The Mary Jane in 1968 and opened another Mary Jane in Bangor in 1972. He sold the Bar Harbor restaurant in 1978.

Other Vardamis restaurants include The Bar Harbor Restaurant and Grill, Jimmy’s Place, and The Greenhouse.

“My second favorite was The Greenhouse because of the tableside cooking and the atmosphere,” he said.

You would think a restaurateur who starts up a different restaurant an average of once every 40 months might have some form of attention deficit disorder, but Vardamis has a different explanation.

“It’s fun opening them. It’s like cooking, I have so much fun cooking because I can create my own dishes,” Vardamis said. “I love the whole newness of it and the creation of something different. After four or five years, the thrill is gone.”

Despite scaling back his duties, the chef who learned under the tutelage of 1970’s Las Vegas Chef of the Year Henri Petitjean at The Desert Inn isn’t planning on hanging up his apron anytime soon.

“It’s what I’ve been kind of dreaming of at my age,” said Vardamis. “When I was younger, I wanted my hand in absolutely everything. I did everything for the businesses I owned. There wasn’t a job I couldn’t do because you shouldn’t own a business if you can’t do every job.

“Now I know I can do everything, but I don’t have to.”

And he won’t, especially when it comes to cooking. But he doesn’t plan on relinquishing his cookware completely.

“No way,” Vardamis said with a hearty laugh. “At least not until they bury me.”

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