After a recent visit to friends across the border in Quebec, my husband and I enjoyed a scenic meander through the mountains and lakes of northwestern Maine. Maine’s wealth of natural landscapes continuously amazes me — such an astonishing variety of hidden treasures to stumble upon. Tucked within the landscapes, there are other kinds of treasure to discover as well. We had the good fortune to find one of those in Rangeley.
In search of coffee and “a little something” at midday, we pulled into the parking lot of the Camp-Do-What-You-Wanna General Store. “General store” doesn’t begin to do justice to the gourmet offerings we found inside. There were big, fluffy scones, cinnamon rolls just hours from the oven and chocolate croissants. We couldn’t resist sharing a spicy meat turnover called a Jamaican Patty, which had curry blended into its delicate pastry crust. Warmed up in the oven, it was one of those treats that makes you close your eyes in gastronomic bliss.
The visit got even more interesting when we got to talking with the baker, Nicole Lund, and her husband, Bob Dea. The couple and their two children moved to Maine less than a year ago. In this time of economic doldrums, their story of a promising new venture was especially uplifting.
Nicole started baking as a little girl, influenced by her grandmother and a favorite aunt who made huge platters of cookies every Christmas.
“When I was little I used to try and make up recipes, which didn’t always go that well,” she said. “Later, working in bakeries, I learned how to do it for real.”
Nicole went to art school for a while, but the call to bake took over. She has been working in bakeries for about 10 years, and according to her husband, “she learned from the best.” Two of her peers work in the award-winning A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem, Mass.
Bob Dea grew up in Barre, a small town in western Massachusetts. He told me an anecdote about his hometown.
“Sometimes my friends and I would sneak out at night and walk around. If a car came by, we’d run and hide in the trees until it passed. But a lot of nights, we never had to leave the road.” Today, though, it has changed. “What was a very rural place is now a suburb.”
Over a decade or two, Bob lived in Bethel, Maine, more than anyplace else, but he has been a bit of a wanderer, working various jobs near home in Barre or his adopted home of Bethel. He worked several winters and a few summers at Sunday River Ski Resort. When Bob had enough money, he would take time off to go fishing around Maine.
Some friends from Bob’s childhood home had a long-standing plan to open an outdoor recreation camp in Maine. When they found 400 acres to purchase last year, they forged ahead and began work on “Camp-Do-What-You-Wanna.” They offer all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile rentals and they’re clearing land for cabins and a zip line. And the headquarters for provisioning and rentals is their new general store in the town of Rangeley.
Bob and Nicole were living in Barre when their friends asked them if they would move to Rangeley and manage the rentals and the store for the new business. Bob was ready to accept instantly. Nicole took some convincing. It was a leap of faith — moving into a brand-new business with their 2- and 11-year-old kids in an unfamiliar rural region of Maine.
Now, the whole family is extremely happy in their new home.
“The kids love it here,” said Nicole. “Our 11-year-old walks around by himself and feels safe, which he couldn’t do in Massachusetts. We’re so glad we came. Everyone is so friendly and nice.”
And business is good. Winter has had its slow times, but word of the general store’s sandwiches and pastries is spreading, and the new fall of snow promises to bring more snowmobilers in for rentals.
Let’s hope that Maine continues to attract young and hopeful entrepreneurs to our towns. Stop by the store some time. I guarantee that if you help them out with a food purchase, the pleasure will be all yours.
Robin Clifford Wood may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.