When Giacomo’s abruptly closed just before Christmas 2016, it wasn’t clear what would happen to the popular eatery at the intersection of Hammond, Central and Main streets. Then local restaurateur Matt Haskell and his partner, Evelina Kacprzykowska, bought it from former owner Brett Settle, closing on the deal in mid-January.
It reopened in May as a whole new Giacomo’s — decidedly different than the old one. Part gourmet market, part eatery, it’s open for both grabbing a quick bite and picking up provisions for home.
“With the growth of downtown and all the new apartments, it seemed like we could try to do a grocery store, specialty food kind of place, plus an expanded selection of food,” said Haskell, who also owns Blaze restaurants in both Bangor and Bar Harbor and Finback Alehouse in Bar Harbor. “And we could reimagine the space to utilize it more effectively.”
Now nearly every wall in the space is lined with products. There are shelves full of dry goods, two large deli cases full of meats, seafood and cheeses, coolers stuffed with craft beer and wine, baskets of Maine-grown produce, and a freezer full of ice cream and other frozen treats.
“The grocery part is both the most exciting and challenging part of this, because it’s something we have to build from the ground up. You don’t make a lot of money off it, at first,” said Haskell. “We are working on it, but we’re pretty committed to keeping it well-stocked with lots of different things.”
There are hot sauces and salsas from local producers like Maine Maine, Sister’s and Todd’s as well as harder to find specialty items like Korean Gochujang chili paste. A single-origin olive oil imported from Greece is pretty special — and so is the backstory about how it ended up on Giacomo’s shelves.
“[A customer] picks it up and brings it back every year, and she likes to share it with other people,” said manager Kyle Grey. Now, Giacomo’s is selling it. “It’s just something super special to have.”
Giacomo’s also offers a large selection of Maine craft beer, including selections from acclaimed breweries like Oxbow, Bissell Brothers and Mast Landing, and wine and cider both sitting on racks and in coolers.
Meats from local purveyors like W.A. Bean and Hartstone Farm are sold along with Japanese Wagyu beef, a world-renowned, highly marbled cut that’s priced at $100 a pound. Grey and Haskell both knew that stocking the Wagyu beef would be a major gamble. But within a few days of stocking it last month, it sold out.
“We were really thrilled that it sold, but I do have to say, I think when you start to offer something that wasn’t available in the area before, you suddenly find that there’s a market for it,” said Grey. “There wasn’t a place to get the top of the line beef here. Now there is, and people want it. I’m not saying we’ll have it all the time — it’s definitely a special we’ll have now and then — but it’s something we’ll keep pursuing.”
As far as the menu goes, Grey says the eatery plans to regularly change up what’s available. In addition to staple menu items, like the Korea Town Reuben (corned beef, kimchi, gruyere cheese and garlic aioli on rye bread) and the Miami Medianoche (roast pork, ham, pickles, mustard and gruyere) and the chopped salads, Grey and chef Damon Deroche intend to offer daily specials in all areas of the menu. Sandwich and salad specials, an array of soups and chowders, and crockpot specials like ribs, chili and pulled pork tacos happen most days — alongside more unusual specials, like sushi to go, tuna poke and coconut curry.
“I think everything about this place is about us evolving and changing and trying new things,” said Grey. “We can really experiment. It’ll be different every time you come in.”
Grey and Deroche plan to soon unveil a new breakfast menu. The revamped menu will keep the present array of breakfast sandwiches while adding build your own omelettes, eggs made to order and other more traditional breakfast dishes.
“I think we’ve really upgraded the variety of what Giacomo’s offers. There’s just a lot more for everyone, like the juice bar, the salads, the specials,” said Haskell. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, so we feel really good about it.”
Haskell is also working on at least three other projects in eastern Maine. Blaze Urban Pizza, the pizza and wing joint planned for the space adjacent to Dunkin’ Donuts on Main Street in Bangor, has been delayed possibly into 2018, as the construction of the roof deck has proved to be a much more complicated project than Haskell originally envisioned.
Meanwhile, Haskell plans to open a restaurant and a brewpub in Camden. Hoxbill is a farm to table fine dining restaurant that will open at 5 Bayview Landing in August, in the former location of Atlantica. In September, a Japanese-style brewpub called Kurafuto (Japanese for “craft”) will open in an adjacent space, boasting a large outdoor patio and featuring the debut of Blaze Brewing Company’s first house-made craft brews.
“I like opportunity. I think I have a knack for seeing projects that will work, that are worth the time and energy. I’m a little competitive, too. I get a thrill out of building things and watching them grow and be successful, and seeing happy customers,” said Haskell. “And I certainly have a big interest in Bangor and eastern Maine. I think that we and some other folks around here have an opportunity to help put this region on the map. That’s what drives me.”