By Debra Bell
Of the Weekly Staff
When it comes to cooking a meal full of flavor and fun, Brett Settle knows his stuff. The Bangor restaurateur is the face behind the food and flavors at two downtown Bangor restaurants: 11 Central and Giacomo’s.
Settle, a Skowhegan native, got his start in the restaurant business as a dishwasher at Longfellow’s Restaurant in Kingfield at age 15.
“I was 15 and needed to pay for drivers education,” he chuckled. “I started dishwashing and remained in the kitchen in order to pick up extra shifts.”
That’s when the restaurant bug bit. Hard.
Settle, a former bartender, spent his late 20s opening new restaurants.
“I would hire the staff, develop the menus, and learned that I really liked to cook,” he said. “Then I went to work for one of the local chains. That’s like college for restaurants. They know how to squeeze a nickel. Even an ounce of mayonnaise has value.”
Settle came on board in downtown with the second incarnation of Giacomo’s, located at 1 Central Street in the historic Bangor Gas Company building in Bangor’s downtown. Tapped by owners Steve and Milva Smith, he reopened the Groceria on May 11, 2009.
“I didn’t know coffee at all,” Settle said. “I never had a latte in my life until I purchased a $17,000 espresso machine. But the location was prime.”
So when he learned the Smiths were positioned to sell Giacomo’s, Settle partnered with Steve Parley to buy Giacomo’s, reopening it in September 2009.
“It was a long, slow painful first couple of years,” Settle said. “But I love it. [Giacomo’s] is a totally different thing than I had done before.”
Three years later Settle finished a journey that started with Giacomo’s when 11 Central, conveniently located two doors down from Giacomo’s, opened.
Settle co-owns 11 Central with Ann Marie Orr and Mark Sampson. Orr is the creator of Ann Marie’s Secret Sauce, offers catering services, and was involved with opening Nocturnem, a draft house and bar on Main Street in Bangor.
While Giacomo’s is open seven days a week during the day, 11 Central offers an evening dining experience and is only open from 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday through Monday. 11 Central is closed on Tuesdays.
The journey to open 11 Central paid off.
“I’m a basics and old school chef,” Settle said. “If you’re over [age] 38, you’ll know my menu because it’s what you had at your prom. I’m not trying to show off. Instead, it’s accessible: Food you know, done very well.”
Diners already familiar with Giacomo’s diverse menu will find comfort on the menu at 11 Central. From comfort food to a well-cooked steak and salad, it’s not hard to understand why their motto: “Gather. Eat. Be Merry.” has caught on.
Locally sourced ingredients is another component to the success of 11 Central Street and Giacomo’s menus. Pizza crusts are purchased from Portland Pie Company. The breads used for sandwiches and dinner meals are cooked by Maine artisans. The ingredients used in many of the dishes are bought from Maine businesses.
What’s Settle’s ultimate goal? To get diners coming in on a constant basis and give them something unique on each visit.
“There were seven sandwiches on menu when I took over Giacomo’s,” Settle said. “In downtown if you are going to eat somewhere five days a week you need to have big menu. My concept was that I want everyone within three walking blocks to eat here every day. I am the demographic for my [restaurants].”
And Bangor’s the right fit for his vision, he said. “Bangor is the perfect little city,” Settle said. “It has everything you want and nothing you don’t. It’s also a city with plenty of room to grow.”
That city with plenty of room also affords Settle and company with an opportunity to employ 35 employees between the two restaurants. At 11 Central alone, Settle said there were at least 20 employees, and some work at both restaurants. And many of his employees actually live in downtown.
But ask him what the best part of running two restaurants is, and Settle will surprise you: It’s being in the kitchen, during dinner service.
“I need the madness from 5 to 9,” Settle said. “It’s when I am happiest. I love the organization of it, and I do all the sautees, then have three guys behind me, and we’re screaming for orders.”