BANGOR, Maine — After 13 years spent raising children and training horses at a big spread in Newburgh, empty-nest syndrome prompted the Smiths to sell their home on the range and come to Bangor.
And although they’re still heavily involved with horses, Kim and Peter Smith have roamed from the ranch (Whispering Pines) to the restaurant as the owners of Market Bistro, which opened in January.
“We’re empty nesters now and I thought I should do something besides talk to my horses,” joked Kim Smith, who cooks and prepares the meals along with daughter Colby, who also handles all the baking. Older daughter Miranda attended horse high school and horse college at Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield, Mass.
Both Kim and Colby also compete on the show horse circuit. Peter has been a farrier for 11 years and still has his “day job,” shoeing nearly 200 horses for clients year-round.
“At one time we had 25 horses and 130 acres at a place on Route 9,” said Peter Smith, 44. “We still have two horses boarded in Bangor and Kim and Colby have two horses in Dixmont.”
The equine theme is evident at the restaurant’s location at 735 Main St., which was previously occupied by Guinness and Porcelli’s, Perrihouse and Seguino’s. Horse-themed paintings, sculptures and prints occupy almost each of the six first-floor dining rooms painted with European-style earth tones. There are also several seats and two small tables at the well-stocked Blacksmith Bar.
“The decor makes it look much like my farmhouse did for years,” said Peter Smith. “One of our pine-top tables in there was used for projects and homework, and you can see the marks from the kids’ ink spills and dents.”
Kim trains and competes with show jumping and cross-country horses while Colby is an accomplished dressage rider. In fact, the Sunday brunches from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. will end after Memorial Day and return in October to accommodate their summer show horse circuit schedule.
The restaurant biz isn’t brand-new to Kim and Colby. They each operated their own eateries at the old Standard Shoe location behind and alongside the Maine Discovery Museum called Bennett’s Market and Unbridled Bistro for a year.
“It takes a lot of hands to run a restaurant and run it right, and we have good people,” said Peter Smith, who does everything but cook. “You can’t eat my cooking.”
The Smiths use a small staff of seven people. Since bartender Aimee Brown is son Travis Smith’s fiancee, that makes 57 percent of the staff family, although dishwasher Josh Brown is Aimee’s brother.
“Amber [Small] and Ada [Athorp] are the token nonrelatives on the payroll,” Kim joked.
That makes for a short commute for most of the staff as Kim and Peter also live at the location, in the five rooms upstairs.
“We were kind of downsizing with the move, so there’s plenty of room for us,” said Peter Smith.
The Smiths strive for a constantly varying menu featuring seasonal, locally produced and-or locally grown ingredients from area farmers and merchants.
“I think in the business, people want to get some kind of connection with a local or family restaurant,” he said. “The menu’s basically governed by what’s available to us and what’s in season. It’ll change frequently and as the seasons change.”
The menu features meals prepared on site from both family recipes and those inspired by magazine articles, Internet surfing or TV shows.
“There are some old family recipes from Kim’s family that have been updated, but we’re also big on trying new things,” Peter said.
Current entrees include European rotisserie chicken; grilled tuna steak with a garlic polenta cake and grilled asparagus; grilled Maine bisson burger featuring maple bacon, blue cheese, and house fries cooked in duck fat; and shrimp and grits (grilled shrimp, tomatoes, white wine and garlic on a bowl of cheesy garlic polenta; and grilled beef tenderloin. Market Bistro also offers eight appetizers, three salads and a “deconstructed lamb gyro.”
And the atmosphere?
“I guess I like to say it’s a pretty leisurely dining experience. I don’t want people to think it’s too formal,” said Peter Smith. “Friends asked how to dress and I said I wear bluejeans. If they want to dress up, that’s great, but if not, casual is great, too.”