BREWER, Maine — Fried pickles and other items that Muddy Rudder customers ordered only once or twice a month are gone from the redesigned menu, new owner Michael Kessock said on Monday.
“There has been a dramatic reduction [in menu items], but the popular items remain,” said Kessock, who along with his wife, Sharine, purchased the 230-seat riverside restaurant on June 1. About one-third of the original 120 menu items are gone, but “portion size has been increased pretty much across the board with prices remaining the same,” he said.
The couple, who have been married for 27 years, have spent the last week training new staff — many whom are area college students — and cleaning and refurbishing the establishment that reopened Tuesday.
“We’re going to open today for better or worse,” Kessock said Tuesday morning. “I hope people understand there will be some loose ends.”
Kessock, a 1966 graduate of the University of Maine, met his wife, who is from Holland, in Curacao, an island near Aruba. He has 40 years in the restaurant business running half a dozen McDonald’s restaurants and the couple opened a Tex-Mex restaurant called the Cactus Club on the island, located north of Venezuela.
“My kids grew up in the restaurant,” Sharine Kessock said, her voice carrying a light accent.
The couple, who gave up running the Cactus Club when Sharine had to deal with a medical issue, have been out of the sit-down restaurant business for a couple of years, but jumped at the chance to own the Muddy Rudder.
“I have very fond memories of Maine and I love the Muddy Rudder and its location,” Sharine Kessock said. “I’ve traveled the world extensively and love the people of Maine.”
The name of the restaurant, located at 5 South Main St., will not change immediately because the Kessocks have the right to use it for a year, Michael Kessock said.
The Muddy Rudder opened in July 2002 at the site of the former Harborside restaurant, and includes an events center upstairs that can accommodate up to 150 diners, said employee Buffie McCue.
“We already have events booked and our goal is to make [the transition] as seamless as possible,” she said.
The restaurant’s upstairs, which has hosted wedding receptions, birthday parties and large group gatherings, also will continue to be home to the Brewer Kiwanis Club’s weekly meetings, she said.
Mike Kessock, who donated $300,000 to his alma mater in July 1998 and was honored the next year when a lighted softball field was named Kessock Softball Field, met with each of the people who applied to work at the restaurant.
“I think we have a good group of kids,” he said. Some of the new employees are from the University of Maine, “some are from Husson and several others are from UTC and Eastern Maine Community College. We didn’t focus on one college or group, we just interviewed 250 people” to fill the 40 openings.
People who worked at the Muddy Rudder before the sale and who were hired by the Kessocks are training the new staff, he said.
“For me, your people are your gold,” Sharine Kessock said. “We are very excited about this.”
Two of the employees are the couple’s oldest daughter, Kimberly, and her husband, Mike. Kim is doing light duty because she is pregnant, her mom said. The Kessock’s other two daughters, Lauren and Meegan, are both students.
She added that down the road, people should expect menu, interior and other changes.
“Eventually, I want to redo the entire inside — to make it pop more,” Sharine Kessock said.