SEDGWICK, Maine — Thanks to a family investment — driven by more than a whiff of nostalgia — a local baker is reviving the defunct Country View Drive-In, which was the town’s first restaurant when it opened in 1963.
Jill Smith, owner and operator of Millbrook Company, plans to move her business into the building in time to open this summer. But there’s a lot of work to be done first.
Country View closed in 2006, and has sat fallow, in disrepair, ever since. On Monday, Smith and seven men, each old enough to remember when Country View opened, were hard at work gutting the old restaurant. The crew had already removed the roof, and was busy tearing down water-damaged rafters and studs in preparation for the near-total reconstruction.
Smith said she will serve breakfast and lunch and offer walk-in sales of her sweet and savory baked goods at the restaurant, located on Route 15 between Deer Isle and Blue Hill.
Rather than the take-out fare of burgers and fish baskets offered at Country View, she said Millbrook Company will appeal to the increasingly health-conscious residents of the Blue Hill Peninsula, Deer Isle and Stonington.
“It will be healthy food, not so much fast-food,” she said Monday, during a break from construction.
Country View was owned by Milton and Nellie Smith, now-deceased distant relatives of Jill Smith, who said she remembered growing up in Sedgwick just two houses down from the restaurant, and recalled how the drive-in was a central part of life in this small coastal town.
“It was meaningful to me, coming here to get an ice cream, or bringing visiting family for a meal here,” she said.
A few months ago, Milton and Nellie Smith’s son, John, put the restaurant up for sale. Jill Smith’s father, Sedgwick Selectman Victor Smith, saw it as a golden opportunity for his daughter and bought the plot. He said he bought the property because it would help Millbrook Company grow, but also said he couldn’t bear the thought of the restaurant being torn down.
“We didn’t want to see it just turned into a house,” he said Monday. “This goes way back in our family history. … When I was in high school, this was a hangout for all the kids. It was the first of its kind around here.”
Altruistic as his purchase may have been, the elder Smith admitted there was an element of self-interest involved as well: “I’m a lobster fisherman, and she might sell some of my lobster here,” he said.
Jill Smith is a 1992 graduate of George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill. After graduating high school, she left Maine and attended the New England Culinary Institute in Essex, Vt. After graduation, she spent eight years working as executive chef in restaurants across the country before returning to Sedgwick in 2005.
The next year, she turned to baking and opened Millbrook Company. Since then, her breads and baked sweets, made with local ingredients and often organic, have popped up at farmers markets, the Blue Hill Co-Op, The Cave and The De-Li.
She said a return to the restaurant world suits her expertise, even if locals know her for baked goods.
“My experience before coming home was primarily in restaurants, even though most people here don’t know that,” she said.
Smith said she was excited to join the small restaurant scene in Sedgwick. She said the goods offered at Millbrook Company will differ from those at successful establishments such as El El Frijoles, Tashefers and the Eggemoggin Country Store, so the competitive environment won’t be cutthroat.
But that’s still a ways off. For now, Smith is focusing on getting a new roof on her restaurant. Friends and family are donating labor, partly as a favor to Smith. But they’re also eager to take part in the revitalization of a restaurant that loomed large during their formative years in Sedgwick.
Steve Tobey is a family friend of Victor and Jill Smith. On Monday, he was lugging lumber, tearing down rafters and pulling nails from salvageable beams. He said it was meaningful to be involved in Country View’s rebirth.
“This place opened in the ’60s, and it held a lot of special meaning in my teen years,” he said. “My wife and I were dating back then, and we spent a lot of time here.”
Tobey said that when Smith opens her restaurant, he’ll be one of her first regular customers.
“You can count on it,” he said. “We’ve known her since she was born — and her baked goods are extraordinary.”
Tobey will be happy to know his hard, unpaid work on the renovations might mean free sticky buns for the foreseeable future.
“I’m sure I’ll hook these guys up with something,” Smith said about all the men working around her Monday. “A lot of gift certificates are being earned here.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.