AUBURN, Maine — Melinda Small woke to the sound of bones breaking.
Her husband, Dan Small, had a grand mal seizure in the middle of the night that swelled his muscles to the point that they crushed his shoulders and spine. It led to more than a year of recovery, an attempted retirement and then, last month, to the opening of Legends Sports Bar & Grill.
It was an unexpected start to an unexpected business venture, a sort of philanthropic pool hall.
They’ve printed a short version of their personal story on the back of every menu.
The Smalls grew up in Millinocket, high school sweethearts married 33 years. That terrible night happened three years ago.
Dan had a six-week hospital stay and months of physical therapy as he learned to walk again.
“Every day, we would cry at the other people we were seeing,” Melinda said.
They thought they had it bad; some people had it really bad.
The Minot couple was able to trust family to run their business, Pine Tree Retirement Planning, and focus on Dan’s recovery. He tried retirement. It didn’t stick.
“He said, ‘I feel like I need a purpose every day,’” Melinda said. “His philosophy was ‘Whether I sit in a recliner or go to work, I’m going to have the same amount of pain.’”
Dan had run a local chapter of a pool league before his injuries and it was the one sport he could still play. They heard about Rack ‘Em Up closing at 128 Center St., and the pieces came together.
“I have no experience in running a bar — we have one cocktail twice a year,” Melinda said. But, “business is business. It’s a new product, but business is business.”
An extensive remodel of the space began in July. They poured and sanded concrete floors, added a restaurant-style seating area, built a new bar, moved the dart room and tracked down 10 Diamond pool tables used just one time, in a professional tournament in New York.
On the walls, they added bowling alley flooring as a nontraditional wainscoting.
“It was a great solution to fix the holes in the walls from pool sticks and all the other things over the years,” Melinda said.
The name Legends was Dan’s idea, she said. “People become legends in their own way over time.”
On Monday nights, they host an open pool tournament, and there’s league play Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights (BCAPL, Valley and Independent, respectively.)
Legends’ grand opening is Friday night with specials and pro-player Mike Deschaine, a Maine native, giving tips.
Melinda said they decided early that they wanted the pool hall to have a mission of helping and giving back. They plan to partner with groups and individuals frequently for fundraisers and have started a Heroes Award, a surprise platter of food and thank you, that they’ll give out at least once a month.
The first Heroes Award went to the T3 Unit at Central Maine Medical Center, where Dan rehabbed.
“We would not be in this position today if it hadn’t been for those kind people,” Melinda said. “The people who cared for him didn’t just care for his body, they cared for his mind.”
They’ve hired eight people to work in various roles. Melinda now splits her time between the two businesses. Dan puts in long days, sometimes 8 a.m. to midnight, at Legends.
“She thinks I’m getting stronger,” he said. “I think it’s adrenaline keeping myself busy.”