FREEPORT, Maine — Three months after owner Jack Stiles abruptly closed historic Jameson Tavern on Main Street in Freeport, new owner Tom Hincks was hard at work in the dining room Saturday afternoon, stripping the 200-year-old pumpkin pine floors amid unseasonably sweltering temperatures.
Hincks let his crew go home midday due to the heat but, mindful of his plans to reopen the restaurant by July 4, he was still on the job. It will be a race to the finish, he said, wiping sweat from his forehead
Having sold his former restaurant, Fishermen’s Grill, in Portland, Hincks, 46, of Yarmouth said he was looking for a new venture with partner Christian Erdmann. They’d checked out a few places in the area before visiting Jameson — where Hincks took his wife on their first date years ago. After seeing the restaurant, Hincks said, “I called Jack, and basically that day I came up and he gave me the keys.”
“Jack Stiles took my mom to the prom,” Hincks, 46, of Yarmouth, said of the man who operated Jameson Tavern for thirty years. “She had to actually ask him. My mom was good looking and Jack was a shy guy. He still plays golf with my dad.”
Although Stiles closed the restaurant in February citing a difficult economy, and despite the fierce competition among the many restaurants in Freeport — including Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen & Topside Tavern, just across from the entrance to L.L.Bean — Hincks and Erdmann are determined to make a go of the historic eatery. They’re banking on themselves as onsite chef and general manager respectively, as well as fresh, local food. Combined, Hincks and Erdmann, also of Yarmouth, have about 60 years of restaurant experience, according to Hincks.
“People are food savvy now,” he said, “and with reality TV, chefs are rock stars … now you’ve got people who know taste, quality and they appreciate it. They will go that extra mile to seek you out.”
Hincks said he plans to buy locally as much as possible, from seafood to aged beef and microgreens.
“I can call Maine Shellfish Co. and tell them I need 15 pounds of swordfish loin and go to Potts Landing [in Harpswell] and say I need 100 pounds of lobster,” he said. “And Johnny Dennison [of Freeport’s Dennison Seafood] has the best clams anywhere. I’m going to use everyone I can who’s local … We’re going to go above and beyond — that’s the only thing we’ve got.”
With a five-year lease, Hincks’ plans for the pub — which will seat 59, along with an outside patio — include enclosing that patio to nearly double the capacity.
“That will take another couple of years and a quarter of a million [dollars],” he said. “I might start with a screened-in porch.”
One thing he doesn’t plan to change — at least so far — is a plaque outside the restaurant, donated by the Daughters of the American Revolution decades ago, that proclaims it as “the birthplace of Maine.”
Built in 1779, Jameson Tavern is said to have hosted poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier, as well as President Franklin Pierce, as they traveled to Bowdoin College.
Freeport Historical Society, among others, have claimed that papers separating Maine from Massachusetts were not actually signed at the tavern. Hincks said he’ll happily take the plaque down — as soon as someone can prove it’s not true.
“If it doesn’t belong there, then take it,” he said. “[But] until they can prove otherwise, who’s to say it’s not?”