BELFAST, Maine — Abby Freethy was lugging heavy boxes by herself into her newly-rented downtown storefront when the Belfast city manager and the police chief both stopped by to help.
“It seemed like a good omen,” Freethy, the owner and creative mind behind Northwoods Gourmet Girl, said.
But the Greenville entrepreneur won’t just be relying on omens to make her new shop a go. The brightly-lit space at the corner of Main and High streets, which opened earlier in May, is the first bricks-and-mortar store for her 8-year-old business. Floor-to-ceiling shelves showcase specialty pantry delicacies such as charred onion ketchup, caramelized balsamic onions and bourbon blonde caramel sauce.
Those foodstuffs are the kinds of things for which Freethy, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, has been generating buzz, both regionally and beyond. That ketchup, for example, was just given top marks in a California newspaper’s taste-off competition, which has led to a spike in online orders from the West Coast state.
Ketchup is where it all began for Freethy, who started making it when she was pregnant with her now 8-year-old son, Dustin. She craved it, but didn’t want to eat the kinds filled with high-fructose corn syrup and sodium. So she made her own, and the result was so good that she turned it into a business.
Freethy and her employees whip up the ketchups, jams, sauces and the like in a 2-year-old production facility in Greenville and sell them in stores all around Maine and other states, as well as online. While she has no plans to leave the north woods behind, and will continue to live and produce her line in Greenville, she wants the Belfast store to showcase Northwoods Gourmet Girl’s diversification.
“We’re building a lifestyle brand,” Freethy said. “We don’t want to do just food.”
When asked to describe what that lifestyle would look like, she responded “simplicity.” Toward that end, the store isn’t overstuffed with knickknacks. One window is filled with clothes: colorful tunic dresses made of a linen-cotton blend, and A-line skirts and pants that are digitally printed with lobster designs. Freethy studied textile design before she entered the Culinary Institute of America, and has been happy to turn her hand to fabric again, she said.
One table is adorned with hand-blown glasses and stoneware plates for sale, and more unique items are coming, Freethy promised. The store’s hard opening will be held on May 30, and she plans to keep it open throughout the summer and fall, closing for a winter break in mid-January.
Shoppers will be able to sample the ketchups and other treats, take home crabcakes, fill a wooden gift box and try a massive “field cookie” that Freethy created for her father to pack on a long day of hunting.
“My hope is that we have a strong foothold here,” she said of the new Belfast location. “That the store works financially. That we’ll integrate into the business community here, and be well-received. Any visibility we give to Greenville, too, is really important. I don’t think that people think of Greenville as having diversity. In reality, there are tons of amazing things happening.”
Northwoods Gourmet Girl at 92 Main Street in Belfast will be open from 10 a.m. -5:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, with extended hours on Friday evenings. You can also purchase product from her website at northwoodsgourmetgirl.com, and find her on Facebook. Jams and preserves run about $9 a jar, ketchup is $8, and relish is $7.75-$8.50 per jar.