SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine — A local lobster pier that for decades has been home to a family-owned lobster retail and wholesale business has been sold.
The new owner of Beal’s Lobster Pier is Russel Bernard, managing principal of a real estate private equity firm in Westport, Conn.
The pier is located at the end of Clark Point Road, next to the local Coast Guard station. It has been a waterfront fixture for decades, selling fresh cooked lobster and other seafood to tourists in the summer and selling seafood wholesale to retailers, restaurants and other dealers year round. Bernard took ownership of the dock on Jan. 1.
Contacted Friday at his office in Connecticut, Bernard said he plans to continue operating the pier as a lobster dock and seafood dealer.
“The name is not being changed,” Bernard said. “Obviously, it’s a historic property. The Beal family has done a great job for 75 years. They’ve done a great job building up a reputation.”
Bernard said he owns other property in the Mount Desert Island region, though he would not specify where. He said he has been familiar with the area for a long time, since he worked as a camp counselor in Maine in his youth.
Bernard’s firm, Westport Capital Partners, owns a property in Northeast Harbor. The Maison Suisse Inn on Main Street was bought out of foreclosure in 2011 for $600,000, according to information posted online in the official assessing database in the town of Mount Desert.
But Bernard stressed that his purchase of the pier in Southwest Harbor is a personal investment project. Neither Westport Capital Partners nor any of its subsidiaries have an ownership stake in the pier, he said.
Beal’s Lobster Pier employs half a dozen or so people year-round, but at the peak of summer tourist season, when the restaurant is open, it has a few dozen, according to Bernard.
He declined to say how much he paid for the pier property, and the purchase price has yet to be posted in publicly accessible databases. According to a listing on the website of local real estate firm L.S. Robinson, the asking price for the property was $2.2 million.
Members of the Beal family who had been central to the family business have passed away in recent years. Elmer L. Beal Sr. passed away in August 2010 at the age of 89, and his son Samuel W. Beal died in September 2011 at the age of 66.
The business has had difficulties in the past few years. The town had placed a tax lien on the pier, which then was discharged last summer, according to information filed at the Hancock County Registry of Deeds. According to the town’s records, the 2013 tax bill for the half-acre property, which has an assessed value of $1.7 million, is $21,788.70.
In November 2011, the federal Food and Drug Administration cited the business for what it said was “insanitary conditions” at the pier.
Rob Bauer, general manager of the pier, said Sunday that the citation was over the cooker the pier uses in its wholesale business, which produced 80,000 pounds of cooked lobster in 2013. The pier had to demonstrate to federal inspectors that the device heated water adequately enough to sufficiently and sanitarily cook lobster, he said.
Beal’s fixed the problem and was never fined for the infraction, he said.
“That’s all been taken care of,” Bauer said. “We had to prove to the FDA that it could boil water.”
In the past few years that he’s been running the pier, Bauer said, the volume of seafood that has passed through the facility has increased significantly. He said 400,000 pounds of lobster passed through the pier in 2011, and it handled nearly 1 million pounds last year.
Bernard said he plans to be a regular visitor at the pier, adding that he has made several recent visits. He said he plans to stay in regular contact with Bauer and others and have a hand in how the business operates.
“Beal’s really is a special place, and there’s an opportunity to improve it,” Bernard said. “We hope to move some things into a more modern age.”
The new owner said he plans to make some physical improvements to the facility and to develop a more robust marketing campaign for the Beal’s brand of seafood. Preserving the pier as a working waterfront property, he said, was one of the reasons he decided to buy it.
Bernard said he hopes to expand the business’s customer base, but sheer growth will not necessarily be the objective. He said the pier’s profit margins will have to be weighed against the volume of lobster, scallops and other seafood that passes through the facility.
“That’s the challenge in the business,” he said. “We have to balance all these things.”