ROCKLAND, Maine — James Hatch and Susan Schiro acknowledge they have taken a great leap of faith to invest their life savings in a restaurant during one of the worst economic downturns.
But the husband and wife say they are excited about their decision to spend the money to expand and renovate the Home Kitchen Cafe at 650 Main St. in the north end of Rockland.
The Home Kitchen has been closed since Sept. 24 to allow for the work that is nearing completion. They hope to have the restaurant reopened by the end of the month.
The expected reopening will come around the fourth anniversary of when Hatch and Schiro first opened the restaurant on Feb. 24, 2009. The couple initially leased the property but purchased it in May 2011.
“Everyone said we were crazy to open a restaurant in the worst of economic times,” Hatch said. “But we had a vision.”
That vision has led to Home Kitchen being a popular spot for locals and tourists to enjoy breakfast and lunch.
When the restaurant reopens it will offer its same fare, they said, although by May they plan to expand their hours and serve that same menu for evening meals.
The seating will increase from up to 50 to 72 during the warmer season when a new upstairs deck can be used. The restaurant will employ 18 people during the busier times of the year.
The couple said they carefully planned going into the restaurant business. Hatch and Schiro operated a graphics business for 16 years. During that time, however, the plans were developed for that ultimate goal.
Hatch said the first job he had was as a teen working a Mexican food restaurant in Damariscotta where he worked his way up from dishwasher to head cook.
“This is the culmination of everything we have done in business,” he said. “People have said we were an overnight success but it has taken 22 years.”
Schiro — a Bangor native — said the experience of running their graphics business, which they sold a few years ago, helped them operate Home Kitchen Cafe in terms of finances and customer service. The year before they opened the restaurant, the couple hired another person to work at their graphics business to do the work that Hatch did in producing the screen print design T-shirts so that he could transition to the restaurant.
Hatch — who Schiro said is a self-taught chef — said his favorite item on the menu is huevos rancheros. He said the success of that offering and the rest of the menu is that all the ingredients are made fresh at the restaurant including the corn tortillas. Those homemade corn tortillas also are used in his fish tacos.
“Everything is made from scratch,” Hatch said, adding that he also is on the cooking line each day.
The effort to expand the restaurant has not been without its challenges, the couple said.
The couple said they had worked out a financing plan with a bank they have done business with for 22 years and had an agreement. But after the restaurant closed in late September to begin the renovations, an appraisal of what the value of the building would be once the renovations and addition were complete was less than what had been expected. They said the bank withdrew its offer.
The only way the bank would agree to continue offering scaled-back financing was if the Hatch and Schiro took all their money out of their retirement accounts and took out a home equity line of credit on their Rockland home to help pay for the expansion project.
“We took a leap of faith. It’s more like jumping off a cliff,” Hatch joked.
Schiro said in the long run they are confident they will get their money back.
The couple is pleased with the work as it nears completion. Eric Allyn was the architectural designer for the project and Bruce Laukka Construction is the general contractor.
A specific opening date is not set but Hatch and Schiro said it could be later this month in time for the fourth anniversary of the restaurant’s start.